The Mist (2007)


The Mist PosterDirector: Frank Darabont

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?

The Mist - Laurie Holden

Images credit: IMP Awards, Horrorphile

Images copyright (©): Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Dimension Films

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)


Director: Peter Strickland

Release Date: August 31st, 2012 (UK); June 14th, 2013 (US limited)

Genre: Drama; Horror; Thriller

Starring: Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino, Cosimo Fusco

Set in an Italian film studio during the height of Giallo movie-making, it is perfectly fitting that Berberian Sound Studio delivers reels of chills, thrills and spills. Amazingly, it does so without succumbing to the trappings of eye-rolling ‘jump scares’ or masses of gore and guts. Instead, director Peter Strickland patiently allows his piece to breathe before exhaling mesmerising psychological torment. But this isn’t just a brilliantly executed horror film. To say so would be doing the intricately crafted weaves of story telling a disservice. Berberian Sound Studio is an appreciation of the mechanics behind film creation; it is a staunch head shake in the direction of misogynistic bigwigs and overpowering assistants; it is a commentary detailing the struggle and neglect of fame-deprived sound engineers and the like. As the climax dawns, each of these elements come together to create a slow-burning but entirely scintillating mosaic that wishes to glance back fondly, denounce universally and terrify immediately.

Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a British foley artist recruited by Italian director Santini (surname only) and producer Francesco to provide an audio track for Santini’s next giallo film, The Equestrian Vortex. Drafted to a foreign land and surrounded by equally foreign filmmaking customs, Gilderoy gradually succumbs to the madness of horror. The seeds of mania are planted soon after he arrives and introduces himself to his fellow crew members, as Gilderoy’s request for monetary reimbursement is consistently shunned or diverted, often at self-absorbed mouth of Francesco (Cosimo Fusco). Not only does this signal doubt in Gilderoy’s mind, it is also the first of many gestures towards mistreatment on set. Gilderoy later has a run-in with his cocky director who corrects the sound man’s admission that this is his first experience working on a horror film: “This is not a horror film, this is a Santini film.”

Female actors are subject to overly harsh treatment as they provide voice-overs, to the point of physical damage from relentless takes of screaming and shrieking. Another crew member — frequently present in the sound studio — hardly says a word, indicating a lack of inclusion in the process and perhaps symbolising a lack of dispersed acknowledgement throughout the industry. In fact, the only time any attention is paid towards Gilderoy is during a power cut, when sight is hampered and sound is the only prevailing mode of entertainment. The film’s potency in its upfront portrayal of disingenuous higher-ups (not necessarily directors) commands significant consideration. Is this hierarchical and at times maniacal process of filmmaking warranted if a successful product spawns as a result? It could certainly be argued that Alfred Hitchcock’s very well documented directorial style on set was effective in that it produced genuine emotion from the likes of Tippi Hedren in The Birds, but that most certainly doesn’t mean it is morally justified.

Strickland’s focus on the questionable side of filmmaking is all the more striking when viewed alongside an equal measure of love and affection on display, aimed towards the movie creation process. Intriguing and entirely justified, paralleling the universally positive and occasionally negative side of the industry shines more light on the wonderful mechanics of it all, but also shrouds some events in darkness. Impeccably shot by Nicholas Knowland, the film gives off an air of satisfaction amongst chaos. Gilderoy, whose initial preconception was that the job entailed generating sounds for a film about horses, utilises a whole manner of fruit and veg in his foley work, in turn accurately and grossly mimicking squashed guts, sliced limbs and broken bones. Yet there still remains a sense of achievement as he completes each sound to great effect, and this aura of accomplishment wades its way throughout Berberian Sound Studio as a metaphorical love letter to Giallo movies, and more broadly filmmaking in general.

Vintage film reels and wall charts are eventually incorporated into the madness, as these physical, common instruments of filmmaking begin to entrance Gilderoy. This notion of psychological torment being imitated through reel (rather, real) life provides a bridge enabling proceedings to cross into hair-raising horror, as everyday inanimate objects begin to take on a existence of their own. Instances of creepy imagery, of which there are plenty, would only overstay their welcome had they not been delivered so horrifyingly well (that flashing “Silenzio” and those voice-over artists in action are both incredibly unsettling). Sound becomes ever flowing and each wave of noise is amplified, but not in an attempt to collect cheap frights from the audience. As the film moves into its final act it becomes more and more difficult to process what is genuine and what isn’t, a trap Gilderoy is consumed by also. Toby Jones’ efforts as the out-of-depth Gilderoy should be commended; his underplayed, soft-spoken delivery gives the mania surrounding his character an even greater voice and Jones’ performance is even exceptionally poignant at times.

In only his second feature film, Peter Strickland has unleashed a multi-faceted tale of hysteria and madness, propelled by horror and laced with appreciation. Each of these individual elements mesh together sublimely, indicating an even brighter future for the filmmaker. Horror aficionados will love Berberian Sound Studio, and there’s a good chance everyone else will too.