Remember way back when there was a rumor about Frank Darabont possibly being involed in a television miniseries remake/continuation of The Thing? I don’t think I imagined that. Well, regardless of all of that Frank Darabont has his The Thing. It’s called The Mist.
In fact when I look back on this harrowing and unforgettable little movie all I can think of is The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and possibly even a little dash of 12 Angry Men. Not that this is derivative or anything but Darabont’s own vision, but it evoked similar emotions to those movies, all favorites of mine. The claustrophobia, divergent thinking and repercussions of such, and fatalistic possibilities are hard to deny.
There’s an amazing sense of dread in this film that I can’t shake. An uncompromising and razor sharp sense of clarity and vision that showcases a filmmaker both attuned to Stephen King’s Lovecraftian original work and the state of the world today. It’s no coincidence that logical thinking, religious zeal, and the class structure are so muxh a part of this movie. We live in divisive times and The Mist is a scarily efficient representative of that. People will squirm in their seats at many moments that don’t feature a monster, which is rare for a film that is so very much a "scary movie".
Though many will find this a very cynical and one-dimensional, possibly partisan film, there’s a throughline of humanity and warmth running through it uncommon in films of its ilk. It’s also an element in Stephen King’s novels that gets left behind in mostly all non-Darabont adaptations. The filmmaker has been been both praised and vilified for his heartstring pulling adaptations The Shawshank Redemption (praised) and The Green Mile (vilified) but its no coincidence that they are in the upper tier of Stephen King related films and it’s simply because Darabont treats the source with nothing less that complete respect. There’s no "slumming" here. He’s a great filmmaker who is hard-wired to the source but not a slave to it. Even industry legends like John Carpenter, George Romero, William Goldman, Rob Reiner, and Stanley Kubrick have had varying degrees of success with the author’s work, but Darabont retains a perfect record in delivering Stephen King material that arguably improves upon the source material each time. Those are all extremly gifted filmmakers, but I don’t believe any feel as charged to deliver as Darabont. It’s that rare marriage of worlds.
At the core of the film is a father and son relationship that is responsible for both the film’s most genuine moments of warmth and the jaw-droppingly chilling bits of celluloid that will have people leaving the theater with a blanket of numbness thanks to an unflinching bit of storytelling from Darabont that goes where King’s novella never did and Thomas Jane’s performance that matches Stander for the actor’s best to date. To say that The Mist carries an apocalyptic bent is an understatement and the actor rises to Darabont’s charge to be one of the very few things in the film that isn’t icy cold and vicious as death itself and sells it so that the overall product isn’t too much a statement film or cynical metaphor.
A small town awakens from a nasty storm to a mist that settles upon it from the mountains above. On the mountain, a military base is conducting bizarre experiments and though the mist is innocuous at first, the two seem linked. Jane is David Drayton, a movie poster artist [one who has painted, among others not coincidentally, the poster for John Carpenter’s The Thing] who takes his son and irritable neighbor (portrayed by the always reliable Andre Braugher) to the supermarket for supplies only to be stranded there with an assortment of other locals, visitors, and military men. A control group of people to make the scary stuff descending from the mist only the tip of the iceberg. Because this is a small film at heart and there’s not a lot of budget available for massive monster carnage a good amount of the truly scary things that unfold happen within the walls of the store between men and women with different worldviews. This is a horror film even without the mist and its slimy denizens. A special note has to go out to Toby Jones, William
Sadler, Jeffery DeMunn and Frances Sternhagen, who, with Jane and Marcia Gay
Harden really bring out the human element here. Really solid work by
Thankfully though, there is a mist and it’s loaded with creepy things both seen and unseen.
I’ll avoid giving away those elements but I’ll suffice to say that Darabont manages to surprise his audience in a variety of ways that are cool, scary as hell, and in a few instances a rare fulfillment of the Lovecraftian promise of both King’s story and cinema in general. It’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing more tentacled behemoths onscreen in the coming years but there’s enough here to keep me satiated until then. The monsters of the mist are both familiar and otherworldly in ways that are acutely akin to the text of Howard Phillips himself and though many have tried to evoke those time honored cornerstones of horror, only a select few filmmakers (people with names like Del Toro and Gordon come to mind) have pulled off the cosmic and paradigm crushing terror of that mythos without just coasting on the cool imagery. Life is cheap and small and no one is safe. Safety is transparent in the world of Lovecraft and in Darabont’s film and when the credits roll at the end the very definition of "safe" is amorphous.
It’s not a perfect film. It’s not a very fun film. It’s brutal and raw and laced with an inner fire I’ve never seen in a Frank Darabont movie. It’s also more bleak than No Country for Old Men, which is a feat. But, it’s a terrific and affecting movie and Marcia Gay Harden delivers what may be the most talked about supporting performance of the year as Mrs. Carmody, a performance that will infuriate many for different reasons, but one that will definitely rouse an emotion out of even the most stoic of viewers.
In a genre that is sagging from a surplus of paper-thin movies that substitute gristle for genuine fear and waterlogged remakes of interesting but ultimately similar Asian films, The Mist is a reminder that good filmmaking and a lack of studio intervention can lead us to a very pure and scary place. This is a film akin to the ones that made me who I am. This is a film that warms my heart as the same time it’s squeezing it with terror. This is an honest-to-God horror film and it reminds me how fucking rare those are.
Thanks Frank. You bastard.