Friday, June 06, 2008

The Mist (Director's Black and White Edition) (2007)

(Image from IMP Awards)

The Mist (Director's Black and White Edition) (2007)

The best Stephen King adapter around, Frank Darabont (he of 'The Shawshank Redemption' and 'The Green Mile' fame), brought yet another of King's tales to the big screen last year. Though 'The Mist' came and went with little fanfare, Darabont delivered with aplomb for the third successive time by turning King's writing into an excellent film.

It's quite a simple set up - in a small town in Maine, a strange mist appears after a storm, and within it exist strange and dangerous creatures who enjoy munching on man flesh. The film focuses on a group of people who barricade themselves in a supermarket and fight to keep the monsters out. Among the survivors are level headed artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble), Judge Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), schoolteacher Amanda Dumfries (Laurie Holden), nutty religious fanatic Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), and simpleton supermarket employee Jim (William Sadler), amongst many others. Their situation starts off quite shakily with the different personalities having trouble getting along and working together. As their situation becomes bleaker, two groups form, one trying to find rational solutions to their dilemma, and the other, larger group giving into despair and following the religious ramblings of Mrs. Carmody, whose power and influence rises with shocking speed.

I'm not sure how accurate the screenplay is to the novella, but the story develops very nicely indeed, wasting no time setting up all the pieces on the board but also never rushing to throw cheap thrills at the audience just for the sake of it. The monster elements are introduced in memorable ways and build up to some terrific and horrifying sequences throughout the film. And the ending is a real whopper, a punch to the gut that leaves you reeling. The characters are well fleshed out given the context and type of film; most are quite believable but a few are a tad exaggerated and some behaviour is a little contrived in order to drive the plot, but these problems are minor and easily overlooked. The dialogue is quite good if a little too didactic and clunky at times. Overall though, Darabont's screenplay is very good and is characterized by interesting thematic material.

As a simple horror film, 'The Mist' works very well. But it has a bit more going on besides monsters. Or rather, it depicts more than one kind of monster, with the second kind being the one trapped inside the supermarket. Society viewed in a microcosm is always an excellent narrative device if done right, and here it works brilliantly. In the early stages the story plays on class divides and personality clashes, but things take an interesting turn after some time passes and hope of rescue begins to fade. People begin to give in to their hopelessness and turn to the blathering Mrs. Carmody, whose readings from the Bible seem to give them something to hold on to at the expense of reason. Her rise in stature fuels her confidence, resulting in the situation becoming more extreme as she exploits people's fear to turn them to her side and to turn her side against the few - including David Drayton and Amanda Dumfries - who refuse to defer to her. Admittedly the story requires the presence of the extreme character of Mrs. Carmody to hasten events, but that's storytelling for you, and despite being contrived the rapid disintegration of civilized behaviour is still frighteningly believable! If the world seemed to be coming to an end, it isn't that far fetched to assume that people's violent, primal instincts would take over. This cynicism permeates the entire film, with even the 'good' people being painted in shades of grey.

Darabont injects into the film an atmosphere of genuine dread and fear, fear derived both from the mist and from the delicate situation inside the supermarket. The film is relentlessly bleak and has a really wicked capriciousness, dispatching people without restraint. The tension and dread are palpable, and the black and white photography seems ideal for the film's tone and a perfect accompaniment to its misty visuals, and it also helps sell the admittedly sub par effects (which looked far worse in the colour trailers I've seen). The film is sparse when it comes to music, relying more on sound effects and only occasionally switching to a moody score and some mournful vocals. While Darabont proves more than a little adept at the monster horror stuff, his track record in creating compelling films about people is maintained here. The film is great as a drama, with terrific performances all round and moments of genuine terror created by both the beasts and the humans! And before you think it's all doom and gloom, there are some moments of humour here and there that relieve the pressure.

Thomas Jane, a very good actor and one I've always liked (see Stander), has probably never been better than he is here as a decent, intelligent everyman thrust into horrible circumstances and forced to rise to the occasion. And no, that isn't nearly as cheesy as it sounds as he runs the emotional gamut while trying to help everyone and take care of his son. Marcia Gay Harden is the perfect counterpoint to Jane as the frightening Mrs. Carmody - she's over the top and hysterical, but epitomizes the type of fanatic who uses pseudo logic, unwavering conviction, and nonsensical morality to persuade the gullible and the desperate. Laurie Holden is fairly good as the good natured schoolteacher, while William Sadler and Toby Jones are excellent as supermarket employees who wind up on opposite sides of the divide. Last but not least, Andre Braugher is terrific and very funny (in a tragic way) as the pompous, arrogant judge Brent Norton.

At the end of the day, 'The Mist' is a breath of fresh air - a horror film for adults featuring adults, one with thematic depth and something to say that still manages to cram in more suspense, drama, and really horrific moments than most of the genre pretenders out there that settle for gore and loud sounds. The best horror films are ultimately about people, and this is something Darabont gets absolutely right (as does King). The concept may sound uninspired, but the film shakes off the notion that it's just another cliched horror film very early on. I loved it, and can't recommend it highly enough!


*FilmAddict* said...

Waiting for the dvd to be available on rent. You made it sound pretty good...hopefully it is. Have always thought the plot sounds a tiny bit like Storm of the Century...though of course I know its different. Saw that mini series ages ago...and rather liked that one too.

Antimatter said...

Hmm, Storm of the Century actually sounds like Needful Things, another Stephen King adaptation. And yes, The Mist is quite different from both of them! :)

Miedy said...

Got this one on our Netflix queue, but still said long wait :P