Release Date: November 21st, 2007 (US); July 4th, 2008 (UK)
Genre: Horror; Science-fiction; Thriller
Starring: Thomas Jane, Laurie Holden, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones
The Mist trundles along quite tediously throughout its opening 10 minutes. The acting is overplayed and stodgy, relationships are too obvious and the dialogue is half way towards egregious. Then we head into town, to the supermarket, where Toby Jones appears and everything subsequently kicks off. Mr. Jones probably isn’t the reason for the immediate turn around in quality, though I’d be willing to bet he is part of it. Rather, it’s Frank Darabont’s screenplay that ushers forth this change. Those first few scenes were likely crummy on purpose, as a means to lure us into a false sense of security. Because otherwise there’s no security here. Things get worse before getting worse still. The Mist fails to attain horror perfection but what it does do is generate a very authentic sense of social familiarity surrounded by science-fiction monstrosities. And that is impressive.
After a freak storm runs rampant in a small town, various residents decide to visit the local supermarket and stock up on supplies. Among them are David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son Billy (Nathan Gamble), however their grocery trip soon devolves into chaos as danger-infested mist sweeps across the area. The group now trapped and anxious, it soon becomes clear that the mist isn’t the only simmering menace.
Before the crisis has grown legs, we dip in and out of numerous brief conversations that take place around the supermarket. It’s akin to a smattering of personality tastings, writer and director Frank Darabont teasing us with the potential for clashes that may or may not arise. Shortly thereafter, a warning klaxon moans out with a distressing echo and a bloody-faced man runs maniacally into the store. (“Something in the mist!”) This sequence is an excellent preparatory slice that establishes the tone going forward: brooding and culturally influenced. See, though this is an outstanding horror candidate, it’s not necessarily scary because of the fog or the monsters that roam inside. The Mist is frightening due to its stark portrayal of humanity come undone. Just how far will humankind plunge in its most testing moment?
The populace picture that follows isn’t exactly pristine; what threatens to simply be a scare-fest swiftly matures into a community drama driven by the unravelling of social status feuds. The supermarket houses a wide range of contrasting citizens, some characters amped up to 11 but all recognisable nonetheless. Debates slowly simmer before raging on with a high intensity and it is the product of these disagreements that horrifies us. Darabont’s screenplay adeptly includes religion, politics and class — they’re all in here. Whilst the religious element frequently takes a front seat, the director skilfully navigates any possible obstacles of audience alienation by placing utmost focus on the people. Though religion is the vehicle for hate, it’s not the agent. Humanity is, and this is an attack on folk being bad within the context of desperation. Collective counterculture in its most horrendous form.
What we have then is a patient and precise narrative, one that knows when to reveal and when to refrain. Fairly early on, we worry that the monster in the mist has been unveiled too soon, a worry that quickly proves to be unjustified. The aliens aren’t necessarily the issue. In some ways the mist is a metaphor for the cloudiness of humanity; enter the swelling smog and things can only get worse, or avoid it — in other words, promote honesty amongst your peers — and life will be alright. Toby Jones’ Ollie says it best: “As a species we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?”
Jones is really good. His character is the most normal, a typical assistant manager who’s a tad overweight and generous with his time. He strikes up an alliance with Thomas Jane’s painter David and a number of other hopeful victims. Jane is a solid lead on the journey, so much so that his dependability factor is eventually usurped by a genuinely powerful emotional outburst. Laurie Holden plays primary school teacher Amanda, her relationship with David one that hints at romance without ever acting upon anything. It is worth pointing out the lack of romance throughout the film: aside from a speedily adjourned kiss there’s none to be had, perhaps another indication of the overarching negative vibe. The most effective performance emanates from Marcia Gay Harden as local religious nut Mrs. Carmody. Harden throws herself full pelt into the role, as someone who degenerates from harmlessly deranged to eerily psychotic to absurdly vile. Although there are a large number of peripheral characters, the potency of a few outweighs the flimsiness of many.
On a technical level, The Mist is efficiently purveyed. Rohn Schmidt’s cinematography shows traces of his work on The Walking Dead (ironically, he’s only one of many here who would eventually swap mist for zombies) and reflects the terror of events succinctly. It’s sufficiently gory without being too upfront, and the alien creatures look rather impressive. The camera makes an effort too, its aggressive movements creating a very chaotic atmosphere. On the other hand music hardly conjures a bar, Darabont instead finding solace in silence and substantial dialogue.
Having said that, the implementation of Dead Can Dance’s “The Host of Seraphim” to hauntingly serenade the film’s final scene is an inspired decision. Much has been made about The Mist’s conclusion. In brief, the ending works. It’s real life, if real life involved aliens and hopelessness. Admirably — and somewhat horrendously — there is no shirking away. But the less said about it the better.
The Mist currently stands as Frank Darabont’s last directorial effort and it’s a worthy swan song. This should come as no surprise given the filmmaker’s track record — The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, to name but a few. The Mist is a methodological piece, one that unfolds with great purpose and honesty. It might encase humanity in an exceedingly gloomy shell, but in the dire circumstances presented who’s to say that this forecast is unfounded?
Images credit: IMP Awards, Horrorphile
Images copyright (©): Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Dimension Films