Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, Laurie Holden, Marcia Gay Harden
Directed by Frank Darabont
The Mist feels like the definitive Stephen King film, which probably comes as no surprise considering director Frank Darabont is responsible for the best adaptations in the author’s 30+ year history. The novella has stood out as one of King’s most celebrated works and has cried out for a movie version, but it’s faced a long road to the screen. Thankfully, it was worth the wait. The Mist is a modern day horror classic in the spirit of movies like Jaws, The Thing, and more recently, The Host.
Following a violent thunderstorm, artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son find themselves in a world of trouble when a bizarre supernatural mist floods their small Maine town. Taking shelter in the local supermarket, the townsfolk discover the fog conceals vicious Lovecraftian monsters and try to formulate a survival plan. But what lurks outside is nothing compared to what rages inside the minds of men. Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), an Old Testament religious nut, views the threat as God’s wrath and takes it upon herself to convert followers into her own warped doomsday cult. As fear gives way to distrust, allegiances are drawn between the panicky survivors and David finds himself going to extreme lengths to protect his son.
The Mist is a classy pic that works on all levels: As a minimalist suspense thriller, a creature feature, and most of all, a dark character drama. Normally when A-list talent collides with the horror genre the results can be pretty dismal (Dreamcatcher, anyone?) but Darabont, a veteran horror writer and all-around genre geek, has a perfect understanding of the material (and even throws in several homages for die-hard King fans). This is the rarest of films; an atmospheric thrill ride that’s both scary and smart. Darabont never goes for the cheap shocks and builds the terror through mood and anxiety. And like all great monster flicks, The Mist is more focused on the humans than the beasts, weaving an intense character study on how people face fear in a completely hopeless situation.
The ensemble cast, comprised of several King-movie veterans, turn in solid performances across the board. Just as in Shawshank, Darabont finds a way for you to connect with every character on some level, no matter how small their roles are. In particular, Thomas Jane gets his chance to shine in his tortured hero role, while Toby Jones easily takes the crowd favorite as Ollie, the geeky take-charge store manager. But it’s Harden who steals the show, winning the Captain Rhodes Award as a villain you will hate with every fiber of your being. Imagine Carrie’s mom cranked up on speed, and even though Darbont humanizes the character, it doesn’t make her any less frightening.
The creatures themselves are almost entirely CG but they’re some of the most memorable movie monsters to run amok thanks to the design talents of KNB and artist Bernie Wrightson. Aside from one or two shoddy digital effects during the first attack scene, the CaféFX work looks remarkable in spite of the budget, and Darabont wisely keeps the creatures hidden for most of the running time. The dread relies more on your imagination, with brilliant sound design and a sparing use of music that builds the tension right from the very first frame. Rest assured though, Darabont still has some fun with several gooey set-pieces that are guaranteed to make your skin crawl.
There is one element of The Mist that will be a source of major controversy: The ending. Without giving anything away, Darabont expands on King’s ambiguous finale and delivers an emotional gut punch so shocking it’s a wonder it ever escaped through the studio system. It may very well be the ballsiest ending in horror cinema, and mainstream audiences and King purists will no doubt be screaming for Darabont’s blood when the credits roll. Heated arguments will rage over the point of the new ending, but it’s far more dramatically satisfying, keeping in line with the tone and themes of the film. Detractors will hate it simply because it’s too effective and that’s the brilliance of The Mist – it divides those who want cheap escapist thrills from those who like their horror with real heart, brains, and courage.
5 out of 5
Discuss The Mist in our Dread Central forums!