Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.
Frank Darabont hasn’t directed a lot of movies, and those that he has directed have been almost exclusively based on the writings of Stephen King. Admittedly, he did both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, so he’s certainly working in an area where he is comfortable. The Mist is another Darabont film based on King’s writing. This time, though, it’s clearly a horror movie—blood, body parts, monsters, and all of that joy. It’s a very calculated stretch for Darabont here. He’s still in familiar waters in some sense, even if he’s going somewhere new cinematically.
One of the benefits here is the same benefits that Darabont reaped with both of his previous Stephen King movies—it’s based on a novella, which means that the bulk of the story can actually be included in the movie. There aren’t a lot of cuts that need to be made here to get the story on the screen, and that’s a huge benefit to what we see. Certainly there are changes from the original story (we’ll get there), but there aren’t significant gaps, or things that need to be otherwise explained. No, it’s pretty accurate.
The story takes place in Maine, naturally enough. A powerful thunderstorm has ripped through a small town, knocking down trees and destroying power lines. Needing some supplies, painter David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble) head into town with their high-priced lawyer neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher). It’s worth noting that Brent and David have had a few legal run-ins in the past, and that the storm caused one of Brent’s trees to fall and crush David’s boathouse.
While they are in the grocery store in town, a thick, white mist rolls in, blanketing the area and reducing visibility outside to virtually nothing. Shortly after this happens, a man (Jeffrey DeMunn) runs into the story claiming that there is something out in the mist. When the store’s generator dies, a group goes to the back, and one of the shop workers, going outside to clear what has evidently blocked the intake, is dragged off by giant tentacles, something that is only seen by David and a few others.
Three factions appear of those in the grocery store. One faction is led by David and those who saw the tentacle attack in the back room. They are aware that there is something going on outside and that there are serious problems outside of the grocery store. The second faction is led by Brent Norton, who thinks the mist is the result of a natural phenomenon, even if it’s an extreme one. The third faction is headed by Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a religious zealot who believes that this is the sign of end times and begins preaching from the Bible she has with her at all times.
What we get is a series of attacks from the creatures in the mist over the next few days. There are mosquito-like monsters, gigantic mantis/scorpion creatures, spiders that spin acidic webs, and more. People die horribly, and while the attacks from outside increase in intensity, Mrs. Carmody’s faction gains more and more converts, and with increased power, the religious fanatics start to demand blood. Through all of this, we slowly learn that the mist and the creatures may be the result of experiments going on at the nearby military base, and the creatures are possibly from an entirely different dimension.
The Mist is one of those films that is blessed with a wonderful cast of good actors who aren’t specifically the type who put butts in theater seats. In addition to the cast already mentioned, we get solid performances from Toby Jones, William Sadler, Laurie Holden, and Frances Sternhagen, who I tend to love in general. It’s a well-cast film in that respect, because these are also people who look like real people. There’s not a lot of glamor on screen here, and that’s appropriate for the story that we’re being told.
While Thomas Jane is the central character here, The Mist is Marcia Gay Harden’s film. Mrs. Carmody is one of the truly great modern villains in horror film. She’s not the horrible, nasty death represented by the tentacles or spider creatures, but she is no less malevolent, and her evil builds beautifully. At the start of the film she is almost comic. By the end of the film, she is capable of performing truly terrible acts directly out of the Old Testament, and doing so without a twinge of guilt or a moment’s hesitation.
My only real issue with The Mist is that the end is absolutely gutting. I get that for a lot of people, that’s one of the best things about it. It’s different from King’s original ending, and I prefer the ending in the novella. In King’s original version, the ending is arguably just as awful and terrible, but it is awful and terrible in a far different way. I don’t want this to sound like I don’t think the ending is inappropriate; it’s not. I just like the other ending better.
The Mist is a solid horror movie, and I like that in addition to having the clear horror elements and moments of gore that we expect, it’s also very good social commentary on mass psychology and the dreadful power that religion and belief can hold over people. It’s good stuff, and while that ending is a true wrist-slitter, it’s very much worth seeing.
Why to watch The Mist: Great classic horror and incisive social commentary.
Why not to watch: That ending is unbelievably depressing.