Cal concludes our peek at Stephen King’s spooky cinematic catalogue with Frank Darabont’s modern monster gem.
Who made it?: Frank Darabont (Director/Writer/Co-Producer), Liz Glotzer (Co-Producer), Dimension Films/The Weinstein Company.
Who’s in it?: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler.
Tagline: “Belief divides them, mystery surrounds Them, but fear changes everything.”
IMDb rating: 7.2/10.
Who needs pseudo-horror movies like Hostel or the endless Saw sequels, with their cheap gore and a complete misunderstanding of the essence of the genre? Torture porn enthusiasts can enjoy them, but genuine horror connoisseurs can enjoy the likes of 2007’s The Mist, a return to form for Frank Darabont and a brilliant reminder of what the horror genre can offer. The Mist is based on Stephen King’s novella of the same name, denoting the third time that Darabont has adapted the man’s works for the screen after the immense success of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Taking on his first horror-oriented project adapted from a King story, Darabont has hit it out of the park, creating an intensely unsettling old-fashioned tale of survival, using forgotten devices like tension, suspense and restraint to fashion one of the best mainstream horrors in years. It’s a B-movie on the surface, yet there’s sophistication and boldness underneath.
After a violent thunderstorm that downs power lines and trees, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) takes his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) and morose neighbour Brent (Andre Braugher) to the grocery store for supplies. While the trio are shopping, a mysterious thick mist envelops the area, trapping everyone inside the store. Too afraid to go outside, the shoppers soon become fractured, with the group breaking off into factions. David and a number of others (including Toby Jones and Laurie Holden) try to use logic and reason to figure out a survival plan, but religious zealot Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) leads her own group, who view the mist as an embodiment of God’s wrath on the sinners of the planet.
Some may perceive the characters within the grocery store as clichéd, but Darabont executes them in a credible fashion, essentially showing us the types of people that we deal with in everyday life. They are fundamentally you and me; average, everyday folks who are as scared, lost, dubious, and even stupid as regular humans might be in a similar scenario. Miraculously, The Mist rarely feels contrived or forced – the drama is executed in a believable fashion, exuding an organic disposition that allows the proceedings to feel wholly real. What Darabont has created here is far more than a B-grade horror – it’s smart, and there’s an element of social commentary. Moreover, Darabont uses psychological horror to a large degree, focusing on the mental torture of the mist about as much as the violence. Indeed, the exploration mob hysteria is one of the reasons why The Mist is so damn scary. Darabont structures the feature with a sure hand, portioning out the terrifying moments and gradually building alarm. While it runs a solid two hours, the film’s runtime flies by effortlessly. Even the small dialogue scenes are wholly engaging.
In order to shoot as quickly as possible and make the most of the limited budget, Darabont brought in a television camera crew, most notably cinematographer Ronn Schmidt (The Shield). Darabont is known for stately, elegant and slow-moving pictures, but The Mist is all handheld, and Schmidt had two cameramen filming simultaneously to maximise coverage. Fortunately, this doesn’t result in the movie feeling cheap or rushed, though – it augments the realism, making the proceedings all the more terrifying. It instils the picture with energy, too, making this Darabont’s most fast-paced movie to date. Admittedly, the tiny $18 million budget did not permit lavish digital effects, hence several of the CGI creatures look phoney, but the movie does not live and die by its monsters. In fact, creatures are only occasionally glimpsed, with a “less is more” approach doing wonders for the material. Darabont stages the bloodshed and attacks with a sure hand, resulting in several harrowing moments.
It’s the bone-chilling sense of atmosphere that genuinely elevates The Mist. With the exception of the final act, no musical score is used at all; instead, Darabont relies on the eerie ambience of this setting to remarkable effect. This endows the picture with more immediacy, and one feels like they are actually inside the grocery store with the characters. Darabont originally wanted to make a black and white movie, but studio interference apparently forbade that. A black and white version is available on home media, though, and it’s this reviewer’s preferred way to watch the movie. It’s exactly the same film as the theatrical cut, but with a desaturated colour palette, and the result is remarkable. The lack of colour amplifies the atmosphere further and gives the production a more old-fashioned disposition, evoking the classic horrors of yesteryear. Furthermore, the monsters look less hokey in black and white, and it gives the movie a timeless feel.
The Mist is filled with solid character actors. Leading them is Jane, who’s a revelation as David Drayton. Although Jane has the charisma and body of an action hero (he was the Punisher), he plays an ordinary man here, and it’s an excellent performance. He makes us believe that he’s just a regular guy who’s ill-equipped to deal with the terrifying circumstances that he finds himself in. Moreover, a number of moments in the final third ask for the kind of acting that most veteran stars would baulk at, but Jane pulls it off. Harden is top-notch as well, turning a villainous stereotype into a credible character. Special mention must also go to veteran players like William Sadler, Toby Jones, Jeffrey DeMunn, Andre Braugher, and Frances Sternhagen, who make their background characters seem both believable and worthy of emotional investment. The Mist is very much an ensemble movie, and this ensemble really deliver the goods.
The ending of The Mist diverts from King’s novella, resulting in a conclusion far darker and more harrowing than anticipated. Darabont had the opportunity to make the movie on a bigger budget if he agreed to change the ending, but he refused, and it’s for the best. Eschewing heroics, The Mist closes on a brave, disturbing note, and you may be left questioning your self-worth and your crisis management skills. It’s a haunting gut-churner, turning it into a truly great horror movie. You may not want to watch this sobering descent into hell very often, but it will linger on your mind, and that’s more than what can be said for the glossy, shallow Hollywood horrors of recent years.
The monsters make short work of the Sherminator…
- During an action scene in the film, a man runs into a wire rotating-book shelf in the grocery store. If you look carefully, you can clearly see that all the books on the shelf are written by Stephen King.
- The Dark Tower poster being worked on by David was actually painted by Drew Struzan, an artist famous for his movie posters. (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, The Thing, Blade Runner, etc.) All of the posters in the studio at the beginning of the film were painted by Struzan, as was the poster for this film.
- When the group is in the next-door pharmacy, David can be seen taking a comic book as promised for his son – an issue of Hellboy. Later in real life, Jane directed the comic book movie Dark Country which starred Ron Perlman, the star of the movie version of Hellboy.
- Norm is wearing a T-Shirt from WKIT Radio in Bangor, Maine. This is one of three radio stations owned by King.