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The Mist

July 11, 2008
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The Mist, Frank Darabont’s latest adaptation from a Stephen King source, contains none of the sickly sentiment that hamstrung The Green Mile, nor the too-perfect plot contrivances and heartrending platitudes that, to be fair, worked so well against expectation in The Shawshank Redemption. In fact, it would be almost impossible, I’d suggest, to find a movie so far removed from those two All Time Faves in the snuggle-up-and-feel-cosy stakes, because The Mist is probably one of the bleakest films I have seen, not just in a long time, but ever. Never has apocalyptic hopelessness and fear been so unrelentingly rolled out across its audience. This is a pitch black movie. It is unforgivingly dark and horrible. Expect a final redemptive walk along the beach at Zihuatanejo with this one, and you’ll go home unhappy.

Heck, you’re gonna go home unhappy whatever you expect.

Yet, we start in an idyllic spot. Maine, bog standard King territory, where a typical King Everyman, the boringly-monikered David Drayton (Thomas Jane), sits in a lovely slatboard home, with his gorgeous kid and beautiful wife. He’s yer average Joe, with a bit of a conscience, a splodge of creativity, no little intelligence and a stand-straight attitude. Not unlike Andy Dufresne, you might say, not unlike Paul Edgecomb. Easy going, normal guys, about to be pitch-forked into a situation that will test them beyond the limits of normal endurance.

Only, Andy and Paul never had to deal with this.

The movie opens with a massive, destructive storm, where David’s house is wrecked, and that of his neighbour similarly damaged. Two massive trees have crashed down, destroying parts of their respective properties and, although previously at loggerheads over an old dispute, they decide to head off into town (David with his little boy, Billy) to get equipment to repair the mess. As the shoppers mooch around the only store, a very sudden and strange mist descends on the little town. Just as it appears, a bloodied and terrified man runs across to the supermarket, screaming that his friend has been attacked and taken by ‘something’ lurking in the fog.

Scared, the townsfolk slam the doors shut on the rapidly encroaching miasma.

From here, things start to take a dramatic and gruesome turn. Small parties bond together and head out, never to be seen again, screams ripping through the gloom. Then, incredibly, out of the mist, come wave after wave of spine-tingling monsters; great locusty bugs, flying lizard things, massive scuttling spiders and a horrifyingly large ‘something’ too far away in the murk to be properly glimpsed. These creatures are fiercely bloodthirsty, and the carnage in the shop is startlingly unpleasant.

Between the waves of the attacks, the dynamics of the group begin to alter dramatically. Unstable Mrs Carmody begins to spout huge tracts of Old Testament fire and brimstone which, as the situation gets worse and worse, bring more and more people to her cause. They begin to demand blood, expiation, to keep the monsters at bay. David and his decreasing band of cohorts, try to see the situation as calmly as they may, despite the horrors, but steadily theirs is the minority view. Ollie (Toby Jones, as always note perfect), the resourceful store clerk, cuts to the chase:

You can’t convince some people there’s a fire even when their hair is burning. Denial is a powerful thing…As a species we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up ways to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?

And at some point in all this chaos, social division and unknown, inexplicable horror, the penny should drop. This, and thank goodness, what joy, is the finest allegorical horror film since Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers subtly integrated a dark political subtext and ambiguity into its simple tale of alien abduction. That terrific sense of post-war, anti-communist paranoia, the metaphor for the tyranny of the McCarthy era, here it finds a perfect sister. The huge destructive opening, the twin trees crashing, the bonding together of previously antagonised groups (David is white, his neighbour black), this insularity, the ignorance of what’s “out there”, the rise of the religious zealots…not for nothing is the movie’s tagline Fear Changes Everything. This is stirring and emotional stuff, and it’s very very well done.

And it never lets up. I will not give away the ending, for it is earth-shattering. But it is simply unbelievable that a mainstream Hollywood studio (Dimension) didn’t try and force Darabont’s hand to change some of this to something more upbeat and palatable; there are so many stop-offs along the way that will make you wide-eyed with disbelief that an American film-maker is making the points he is. Brave and bold, that’s what it is. The Happening would have loved to be a tenth as good as this.

I am still, 24 hours later, in shock at the way it all ends, one of the darkest conclusions I can remember, all washed across you with an icy blast of the great Dead Can Dance’s mind-shredding The Host Of Seraphim. At this final moment, both imagery and soundtrack combine to create a cold, ruthless, harrowing and uncompromising slice of razor sharp pessimism. This is that wonderful thing; a horror movie that makes you think; a horror movie that bursts out of its genre limitations; a horror movie that isn’t awful, but genuinely, bitingly horrible.

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