Mist, The (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Mist is what a horror film should be - dark, tense, and punctuated by just enough gore to keep the viewer's flinch reflex intact. In fact, that movie's ending is so uncompromising that one must assume director Frank Darabont had final cut so the studio couldn't interfere. (It's worth noting that the ending is not the same as that of Stephen King's novella, but I won't mention how it has changed.) Darabont has fashioned a tense motion pictures that's ultimately more about paranoia, religious fanaticism, and the price of hopelessness than it is about monsters. But the creatures are present and accounted for, lurking in the white-out that is the mist. Someone has finally succeeded where John Carpenter failed with The Fog.

Darabont, who was an established screenwriter before trying his hand at directing with 1994's The Shawshank Redemption, has made four motion pictures. The Mist is the third one that uses a Stephen King story as source material. Before The Mist, Darabont stuck to King's "straight" stories, but this time he takes a turn for the horrific. What he does right, however, is to focus more on the interplay between the characters than on the monsters. By the end, one wonders which group is more savage: us or them. Darabont's theme in some ways echoes a sentiment voiced by Ellen Ripley in Aliens: that human beings can be as bad or worse than the nightmares that sometimes hunt them. (The movie borrows other things from the Alien series, including the expulsion of creatures from the body and the cocooning of victims.)

The Mist starts out in the "normal" world before quickly taking a journey into the surreal. David Drayton (Thomas Jane) is painting in his studio when a violent storm hits. In the aftermath, one tree has come through his studio window and another has flattened his boathouse. As he; his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble); and his neighbor, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) head into town to the supermarket, an eerie mist is spreading across the lake. The supermarket is a picture of chaos with the power out, but it's about to get much worse. The mist blows in, enveloping everything, and someone enters the supermarket with blood on his face, screaming that there's something out there. It's not long before David and some of the other shoppers and store employees get a glimpse of what that "something" is. Meanwhile, religious fanatic Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) believes this is a sign of the coming apocalypse and that God has designated her to lead the unfaithful to salvation - perhaps by sacrificing those who reject her ranting.

The majority of the film takes place within the supermarket, although the most tense scenes are those in which one or more characters leaves its relative "safety" for a short period. Inside, as the terrified and trapped people grow increasingly more tense, the population fractures into three groups: those who believe in the supernatural explanation and follow Mrs. Carmody; those who reject that anything serious is wrong and follow Brent Norton, and those who know there are monsters but don't think praying is the answer and follow David. It's a story we have seen before: while the demons gather their forces in the darkness, the humans bicker amongst themselves.

The Mist provides some unlikely heroes. Thomas Jane's David is a typical square-jawed, good-looking protagonist whose quick thinking and common sense approach makes him a person others gravitate toward during a crisis. But some of the biggest blows are struck by nerdy Ollie (Toby Jones) and elderly Irene (Frances Sternhagen). These two get the biggest cheers when they go on monster-killing rampages. Meanwhile, Marcia Gay Harden's performance as the unhinged prophet Mrs. Carmody makes the skin crawl. And Laurie Holden plays one of David's most faithful followers - a young school teacher whose primary purpose is to provide comfort to Billy.

The special effects are both a strength and a weakness. They are effective when portraying monsters seen through the gloom of the mist. (There's one horrific and awe-inspiring moment late in the movie.) When seen a little closer and clearer, however, the CGI is too apparent. Atmosphere is Darabont's strength. It's what drives the movie - wondering and fearing what might be out there, preparing to launch itself at the huge plate glass windows that front a supermarket. Using ingredients supplied by King, the director brews a potent stew that concludes with a scene tinged with the most bitter irony imaginable.

If there's a fault, it's in the "explanation" that details what the mist is and why the creatures are displacing humankind. This has tacked-on, obligatory feel. The scenario might have worked better if it was left to our imagination to figure out where the monsters come from or why they are here. Like time travel, the more the filmmakers try to explain it, the more lame it sounds. Fortunately, it's a small part of an otherwise superbly made motion picture. Finally, after a long list of failures, someone has done justice in bringing one of King's horror stories to the screen. Though definitely not the feel-good movie of the season, this is a must-see for anyone who loves the genre and doesn't demand "torture porn" from horror.

Mist, The (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 2:05
U.S. Release Date: 2007-11-21
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1