The Mists (2007)
Frank Darabont achieved both critical acclaim and mass appeal with his adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. In 2007 he returned once again to the work of Stephen King with his film version of The Mist. It’s a sideways step away from human drama into a more genre piece, yet it still retains a very traditional story at its heart. Once you look beyond the superficial elements of "creature feature" plot, you get yet another well written character study by an ensemble cast, again focusing on how the human condition deals with extreme situations. The particular route it takes and some of the themes it explores may not be to everyone's taste. However, it still focuses on characters and performances. It is also a movie that ends with a somewhat unexpected plot development, that some viewers may find a little extreme. It is one of those film related twists that if known in advance, greatly diminishes once enjoyment of the film.
Set in yet another small and unobtrusive town (the kind Stephen King exalts), The Mist starts with an unexpected and extreme storm. This inclement weather forces David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his family retreat to their basement. When they emerge in the morning a tree has crashed through the front window of his house and the power is out. David and his young son go into town for supplies, leaving his wife behind. It’s at the general store where David first realises something is horribly wrong. A man, covered in blood, races into the store screaming “there’s something in the mist!”. Shortly after an unnatural mist rolls across the town and leaves the store cut off and isolated. From this point on the The Mist focuses on how fragile the social bonds of a community and how thin the veneer of a civilised society really is. It’s not long before friends and neighbours turn against each other, with logic and reason being replaced with blame and fear.
The Mist is more than just some monster movie. It’s a careful and inciteful examination of human nature. Darabont’s screenplay develops each character carefully and the film’s real thrills comes from following his group of terrified survivors, rather than the curious beats that accompany the mist. Their individual emotional journeys and the way they fall apart in different ways as they lose hope, makes for compelling viewing. Some turn to God and fatalism, others strive to be logical, where a few remain in denial and pay dearly for their refusal to face facts. David Drayton however, simply refuses to give up, although this is shown not be without ramifications. As ever this is where director Frank Darabont excels. He has a keen eye for social dynamics and credible characters, constructing a worryingly realistic microcosm of American society. Ten years on this film feels worryingly prescient.
Thomas Jane carries the film with his central performance as an artist turned temporary leader. But it’s not just Jane that turns in a solid performance here. The ensemble cast of quality actors not only embody their respective characters but specific facets of contemporary US society. Toby Jones, the quiet and unassuming junior manager of the store, proves to be a robust and stoic character. Marcia Gay Harden excels as the towns religious zealot, happy to use events to fuel her own prejudices. It's been a while since I wanted to see the "bad guy" in a film get what they deserved, quite so much. Such is the strength of her performance. The Mist again shows Darabont's ability to emotionally connected with the central characters. It is what makes the film so effective. You want them to be safe and you're genuinely upset when some meet a brutal end. The mindless hypocrisy of some characters as they clutch at straws and change their allegiance, to simply survive is also plausible and gripping. Perhaps it makes us feel uncomfortable because it rings so true.
If there’s any flaw in the film, it’s in the mechanics of Darabont’s script, which at times leans towards the predictable. All those the cast and characters are compelling, there are few surprises about who will turn out bad and who will be a unsung hero. But like everything Darabont does The Mist connects so well with its audience on an emotional level, that you can forgive these weaknesses. The film’s monsters are there mainly to serve as a catalyst for a much deeper, emotive and thought-provoking story. Although it should be noted that the film does contains a degree of strong violence and language. The creatures themselves are also creative and baroque. The Mist is a clever, character-driven horror film and a human drama. It could also be considered as a metaphor for genocide and ethnic cleansing. You decide. The Mist is recommended to fans of human drama, strong performances and is not the exclusive province of the horror buff.