10 April 2010

Fin's Review: The Mist

Stephen King adaptations have a chequered history to say the least and this is particularly true for his horror stories. Anyone who has seen the Langoliers knows how an excellent Stephen King story can make a truly terrible film. For some reason King's horror stories, with their emphasis on the minutiae of small town America, do not easily translate to the silver screen. The Mist was therefore one of the greatest surprises and one of the most pleasurable experiences I had in the cinema in 2007. The Mist is based on one of my personal favourite Stephen King stories and Frank Darabont not only does justice to the the original but in some ways surpasses it, a very rare thing indeed. The Mist is both a monster film and a film of real heart and brains and it excels at both, while packing a real emotional punch. I never saw this film coming and in the couple of hours I spent in the cinema it became one of my favourite horror films of modern times - I was therefore delighted when Ally made this one of his first picks for horror club.

Despite the fact that this film concerns apocalyptic events and giant monsters, Darabont plays it with a a completely straight face and creates one of the most effective, moving and serious monster films ever. Darabont is a huge horror fan and had wanted to make this film for years; his enthusiasm and knowledge are clear throughout the film. The Mist is a classy monster flick and, as in all the best examples of the genre, focuses more on people and how they face fear in what appears to be a totally hopeless situation.

Darabont creates an truly atmospheric film which is both intelligent and scary. The film never gives in to the temptation for cheap thrills and the tension and sheer dread are patiently built. From the minute that the mist envelopes the supermarket where the story takes place, the characters and the viewer are thrown into a truly horrendous experiences. The fact that our main character has a child makes the story even more horrific.

Darabont's excellent knowledge of Stephen King is demonstrated clearly by his focus on the characters. For King the horror provides the driver by which we can understand the behaviour and motivations of people under stress. This film is a tense and intimate character study of the ways a small group people come to terms with the situation. The ensemble cast is absolutely excellent and unlike much horror Darabont allows enough time for us to care about many of the characters, which adds further punch to the extraordinary ending.

Thomas Jane is excellent as the tortured father having to deal with not just the situation that he is presented with but also the fact that he has his small son to protect. However, as good as Jane is, it is Marcia Gay Harden who truly dominates the film as the deranged religious fanatic. Harden oozes intolerance and self-righteous arrogance in every scene. I have not hated a villain as much in a long time and neither will you. In some ways The Mist is a very contemporary film, both in the way it shows in a microcosm the effects of ignorance and how fear of the unknown can cause a society to implode, and also in its view of religion and science.

Darabont paints a compelling case for moderation and open-mindedness by showing not only the danger of ignorant and thoughtless belief as encompassed by Harden, but also the intolerance and ignorance shown by modern atheism and secularism. He does this through the character of Brent Norton, a New York lawyer. Norton tries to blank out anything that is happening and insists everything can be explained by reason and reason alone. In the end, he is as close-minded and intolerant as Harden. Norton eventually leads a group of unbelievers into the mist, ignorant of what is happening but smug and arrogant that everything can be explained by science and reason (Richard Dawkins, anyone?). Darabont suggests anyone who believes that they are completely right and that those who think differently are wrong are truly lost in the mist.

As with every monster movie, you can have the best story in the world but if the monsters are crap it doesn't matter. Darabont makes the excellent decision to keep the monsters deep in the mist throughout - for most of the time, we just get quick glimpses suggesting truly horrific creatures. When the creatures are seen they are universally strong and in some cases - such as the giant creature near the end - awesome. Unlike most monster movies, the creatures do not go out of their way to attack the people in the supermarket; the people who come to harm just happen to come across the creatures' path, much like a predator in real life. One of my favourite things about the monsters is how naturalistic they are. They come across as something that may exist on another planet. Darabont makes the creatures part of a natural ecosystem that has simply been transplanted on earth, which somehow makes the creatures ever creepier.

Finally, it would be impossible to discuss this film without talking about the ending. Darabont's ending differs from King's and packs an unbelievable punch, which has proved controversial. I thought it was one of the ballsiest endings in horror history and absolutely loved it. Other people hated it, but I think everyone would say it is astonishing. Andrew Kasch of Dread Central says that The Mist "divides those who want cheap escapist thrills from those who like their horror with real heart, brains, and courage." I couldn't agree more.

1 comment:

  1. One of the all time great endings. Desperate to see it in black and white as Frank Darabont envisioned.


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