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Something [wonderful] in The Mist

July 13, 2009

David Drayton puts the finishing touches on what looks like a poster for Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.  The lights flicker off, on, then off.  It is dark, windy, and lightning flashes above the mountains.  The Mist.  The camera pulls back slowly, revealing the backs of David, his wife, and a little boy staring out a large window.  Lightning flashes illuminating the ominous reflection of Steff Drayton.  The storm rages, a tree crashes through the upstairs window, destroying David’s work.

The opening of Frank Darabont’s The Mist is brisk, skillful, and intelligent.  The mist seeps over the mountains in the near distance.  There is a moment of wonder and curiosity, but ultimately, it is only mist.  David, played with restrained confidence by Thomas Jane, nervously approaches his neighbor, high powered lawyer Brent (Andre Braugher).  Quickly resolving their dispute involving a tree and a boathouse, David, Brent, and little Billy head to town for some supplies.

In case you are not familiar with Frank Darabont, please allow for a moment of introduction.  As a screenwriter, he is responsible for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, The Blob, The Fly II, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Only Dream Warriors, in the hands of  director Chuck Russell, is worthy of note here.   As a director of other’s writing, Darabont brought us Tim Matheson and Jennifer Jason Leigh in the truly horrifying Buried Alive, but he also bored us with the Michael Sloane scripted, Jim Carey vehicle The Majestic.  But in total control, and with Stephen King’s source material, Darabont is batting a thousand.  With The Mist, and before it  The Shawshank Redemption (1984) and The Green Mile (1999), Darabont proves his ability to translate King to the screen.

And The Mist is classic King.  A large group of characters trapped in an isolated, yet functional location, must find a way to work together to overcome increasingly threatening danger.  Like The Stand, Needful Things, The Storm of the Century, and the Langoliers, the biggest threat is always the people themselves; and with the The Mist it is no different.

Two early scenes set the stage for the battle that is ahead.  A local man runs frantically into the grocery store bleeding and disoriented.  He is screaming, “there’s something in the mist!”  Momets later, David heads to the loading doc for some blankets.  While inspecting the smoking generator, he hears strange sounds beyond the metal dock doors as something pushes against them.  He enlists a few willing volunteers who proceed, against David’s adamant, angry protests, to open the door in order to unclog the generator’s exhaust tube. 

Darabont’s brilliance is in the dialogue.  His characters spend time revealing themselves; during this brief scene, we learn a lot about these men, and after the tragedy inevitably occurs, David directs his anger toward Jim, played by Bill Sadler, when he cries, “You got that kid killed, and I got his fucking blood on me!”  This is a real moment in the midst of a most unreal situation; this is Stephen King’s specialty, and Darabont has mastered the art of the King.

Darabont’s events unfold quickly.  A woman, who left her 8 year old daughter in charge of her newborn for what she thought would only be a few minutes, begs for someone to escort her home through the mist.   She looks in the eyes of men, pleads with them, and is denied over and over.  Finally, in desperation, she heads out, alone, into the mist.  For the audience, it is a sign of things to come.  There are no rules in this movie.  Everyone is at risk, and this makes the impending arrival of the creatures even more arduous. 

The arrival of the creatures unleashes another beast, a beast more deadly than all of the creatures combined.  Mrs. Carmody, the brilliant Marcia Gay Harden (The Dead Girl’s tortured mom), preaches the book of revelations, setting the stage for a battle between religious zeal and rational thought.  And so The Mist transforms itself from classic monster movie to philosophical study of human nature.  And this study, although a bit too preachy at times, is thrilling to watch.  Marcia Gay Harden is shocking in her presence.  When a non-believer offers up a bit of sincerity, Harden’s character retorts, “The day I need a friend like you, I’ll squat myself down and shit one out!”  Darabont’s script plays often with the contradictions of this woman’s beliefs, and the progression of fanaticism culminates with madness and horror.

But The Mist is a horror movie in every sense of the word, and the creatures take center stage during the frenetic second act.  They are beautiful, awe inspiring, prehistoric creatures who feed indiscriminately on dog food, ice cream, and flesh.  There is violence in The Mist, integral to the films arc, and Darabont connects us with the brutality.  Each time we lose a character, we feel it.  And on one occasion, the result is so brutal, so painful you will wish you hadn’t.

Ultimately, though, The Mist is the study of the human capacity to maintain hope and it poses the question, at what point is that capacity maxed out? This story is a tragedy, plain and simple, but all of our lives, in the end, are tragic.  With The Mist, Darabont has achieved yet another masterpiece; and with so many King stories still to explore, I hope  there are more to come.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jason permalink
    July 13, 2009 5:33 am

    man, i loved this movie! the end couldn’t have been better in my opinion. I heard that that wasn’t the original end. i heard the director wrote the end to this. Genius. and where the mist came from is an incredible explanation. i seriously thought they just wouldn’t explain it. i’ve read alot of Stephen King and most of the time the end is alright, but he doesn’t explain anything sometimes. decent review. you left out alot of good stuff though. lol

  2. Charlie permalink
    July 13, 2009 6:48 am

    Cool review. I added it to Netflix. I can’t wait to see it now.

  3. August 2, 2009 7:56 pm

    While I fully agree with your review, I can’t believe you didn’t mention the film was intended to be black and white. At the 11th hour, they were forced to change it to color making the few CG monsters look cheesy. Seeing the film in black and white is a magical experience. Not only does it fit the film better technically but thematically as well. If you haven’t seen the MIST this way, you must! If you rent it on Netflix, ask for the SECOND disc of the 2 Disc Special Edition. It contains the entire film in B&W. Enjoy!

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  1. Did you miss The Mist? See it - TalkHorror - Horror Talk For All Horror Fans

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