Stephen King’s The Mist

| November 24, 2007

Frank Darabont’s adaptation of the Stephen King novella “The Mist” is one of the best and most uncompromising horror films to sneak out of Hollywood in years. Not only is it easily the best movie version of any of King’s horror work, it might be the best adaptation of any of his novels or stories, horror or otherwise.
As the film opens, a fierce storm knocks out the power to a small New England town. The next day, while several residents are in the local grocery store, stocking up on supplies, a strange mist descends upon the town. When the mist reveals that it’s hiding giant bugs and other bloodthirsty creatures, the pressure cooker is turned up to high and the people trapped inside the store find themselves cracking under the strain.
From this simple premise, Darabont runs the audience through a truly frightening ringer as some of the people in the store try to hold on to reason and figure out a way to survive the situation. Unfortunately, most everyone else chooses to follow Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River), a Bible-thumping zealot whose religious ideals are decidedly Old Testament in nature. As she whips her followers into a frenzy, claiming that God is punishing mankind for transgressions from abortion and stem cell research to space travel, the idea of human sacrifice to the monsters becomes a real possibility. It isn’t long before the small group of people clinging to logic, have to fear for their lives, not just from the creatures, but also from Mrs. Carmody and her followers.
The Mist has long been considered one of King’s best stories. It’s a work of precise suspense that strips away the over-indulgent excess that often mars his novels. Darabont recognizes this and keeps the film very faithful to the original story, subtly working in a subtext that points out just how easy it is to shatter the illusion of civilization. It’s also easy to see this as a parable for what has happened to America, post-911. When a group of people is forced to fear for their lives, the opportunity for extremism, either political or religious, takes over. When this happens in The Mist, things go from bad to far, far worse in a heartbeat.
The cast, while not packed with big names, all fit their roles perfectly. Harden is a wonder to watch as she goes from mumbling Bible verses to an arrogant leader, sure of herself and the righteousness of her evil acts. Thomas Jane (Stander), an actor that has never really impressed me, comes through with a strong performance as the reluctant leader of the reasonable minority. In smaller supporting roles, Toby Jones (Infamous), Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street) and William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption) all bring distinctive personalities to what could have been throw-away characters.
While the ensemble cast works well together, this is Darabont’s show all the way. He eschews the formal style that has characterized his past films, in favor of hand-held camera-work and abrupt zooms that give a documentary feel to the film. In fact, with the attention to character, the siege setting, cynical attitude about mankind’s ability to destroy itself and a bitterly ironic ending that works like a swift kick to the gut, Darabont seems to be channeling the savage early work of George Romero.
If there is a downside to the film, it’s that the CGI-created monsters don’t always look so realistic. While the carnage they inflict upon the characters is bloody and disturbingly realistic, the creature effects occasionally let the story down, giving us monsters that look like they belong in a video game. For me, it was an easily forgivable sin. The creatures aren’t the real villains in the film and Darabont only uses them sparingly.
This really is a film that’s going to surprise a lot of people. It’s a horror film that makes the audience care about the characters before doing physically and psychologically terrible things to them. It’s a pessimistic social commentary that offers nary a glimpse of hope for the audience. And it’s a mainstream Hollywood film that taps into a true anger at the current state of things, complete with an ending that’s just about as grim as can be imagined. It’s hard to believe that all of this cynicism comes from the man who brought us humanistic dramas like The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Majestic. It’s a credit to Darabont that thoughts of those films never creep into the audience’s mind while watching The Mist. Pissed-off and brutal, this feels like the work of a completely different director.

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