The morning after a violent thunderstorm, a small American town awakes and goes about the business of repairing the night’s damage. Commercial artist, David Drayton, drives his son, Billy, and his attorney neighbour, Brent Norton, into town to pick up supplies from the local supermarket. They think nothing of the thick mist that is sweeping towards the town, spreading unnaturally fast across the nearby lake. As the mist envelops the town, the townsfolk inside the supermarket close the doors on the screams of those caught in the mist. It’s clear that this is no ordinary weather, and as the real secrets and dangers of the mist come to light the survivors begin to turn on each other in desperation and despair.
I was keen to see The Mist as the original novella on which it’s based is one of the few pieces of Stephen King’s fiction that I’ve read and enjoyed. In what’s perhaps a slightly unusual route to King’s horror stories, I was turned onto it in 1998 when an interview with several Valve employees pointed to it as a source of partial inspiration for their now-legendary game Half-Life.
Happily, director Frank Darabont has stuck faithfully to the original tale, and what changes have been made are for the better – the film is a lean, tense affair with little fat to trim away despite its length. Darabont hits all the right horror movie notes: playing on the fear of the unknown and what you can’t see; building periods of calm or tension and suddenly breaking them; impressive and original creature designs; most of all, a focus on the really horrifying things that people do to one another when placed under extreme stress and oppressive fear.
There’s another reason I wanted to see The Mist; a review I read in print SF magazine Interzone. Nick Lowe, the mag’s film critic, made the insightful point that protagonist David Drayton is made to suffer, and inadvertently makes others suffer, for his pride. He’s the atypical all-American hero of countless films, but every one of his attempts to solve problems, to help people, or to make things better fails. The problem that he’s up against is simply too great for the small actions he can make, and he’s incapable of knowing what’s going on outside his small bubble of immediate experience. The one character who does emerge with her life and innocence intact is the mother who ventures out into the mist alone, desperate to return home to find her children and brought to tears by the refusal of anyone to help her.
Drayton’s curse is applicable to most other individuals in the film who attempt to take charge, to impose their efforts to do the right thing on others. Not least among these is the unhinged Ms. Carmody, a character who I’m half-convinced is an impossibly crude caricature of an Old Testament Christian fanatic. That said, much of what she says – much of what she clearly believes – is not out of place in a smalltown American setting (and lest anyone think I’m picking on our cousins on the far side of the Atlantic, nor are the horrified reactions to what she claims and causes – from both believers and non-).
Over the course of the film Carmody becomes the film’s antagonist – unlike the mist, she possesses a human face. Her progression is convincing: at first few believe her outlandish claims that Judgement Day has arrived, and that the monsters in the mist are the agents of God’s wrath. But as time passes, as people die and hope dwindles, fear drives people to follow her, and their desperate belief encourages her beliefs into full-blown messianic delusions. It’s terrifying, and perhaps hard to believe simply because – as the schoolteacher Amanda Dumfries says of the survivors – you don’t want to believe that civilized people are capable of the sort of deeds Carmody encourages.
Fans of psychological horror are clearly well-served. The film is set against a terrifyingly apocalyptic backdrop but the scale is small, being almost entirely restricted to the few scores of survivors sheltering in a small supermarket (albeit one with a seemingly limitless supply of dogfood sandbags to shore up its defences). Those who like their horrifying creatures will also not be disappointed by the imaginatively designed denizens of the mist, and the film is identifiably Stephen King in the unpleasant deaths it metes out to many of its players.
The film’s final act is unremittingly bleak; it’s a cliché to say it, but it’s not for the fainthearted. The destruction of Drayton is complete and total. While there is hope in the face of the mist, for the characters we’ve come to know it is a bleak hope.
The Mist is probably one of the strongest films I’ve seen this year. It’s a tremendous success in everything it sets out to do, providing intense psychological drama alongside terrifying clashes with Lovecraftian horrors, in a setting that violently hurls small-town concerns against fantastical horror. See it.
ExtrasThis version of The Mist comes on two DVDs. The first includes a commentary by writer/director Frank Darabont. There are also some deleted scenes, which whilst interesting do strengthen the film through their removal.
There are also a few short pieces: a conversation between Stephen King and Frank Darabont of mostly personal reminisces that would be interesting to fans; an appreciation of the film poster artist Drew Stuzen (whose iconic work inspired the career of protagonist David Drayton); three on-the-set ‘Webisodes’; and finally, a gallery of three trailers.
The second disc contains, charmingly, a black and white version of the film. A short introduction from Darabont explains that he has a great affinity for black and white celluloid, and that this version of the film is the closest there is to a director’s cut. Then there are four ‘making of’ featurettes: When Darkness Came: The Making of The Mist; Taming the Beast: Shooting Scene 35; Monsters Among Us: A Look at the Creature FX; The Horror of it All: The Visual FX of The Mist.
There’s a good selection of extras overall and while most of it is fairly pedestrian, the black and white ‘director’s cut’ is a great inclusion.
Dir. & Screenplay: Frank Darabont, based on a short story by Stephen King
Film: Extras :
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