The Mist (review)

We Have Met the Monsters…

Frank Darabont’s adaptations of Stephen King’s writings are not just some of the best mountings of the writer’s work but some of the best films, period, of recent years: The Shawshank Redemption, anyone? The Green Mile? So I don’t think it’s too outrageous — or too surprising — to say that The Mist, which Darabont wrote and directed from a King novella, is not only one of the best movies of 2007, it’s one of the best horror movies ever made. Period.
Look: B movies went A a long time ago, even before the real world turned into its own kind of science fiction nightmare of drowned cities and kamikaze terrorists, and so isn’t civil disaster the perfect springboard for exploring the most sinister aspects of humanity? Because, oh yes, there are creatures here with teeth of both the metaphoric and literal kind, but they’re just animals doing what animals do. The monsters of The Mist are the people, and how we give in to fear and give up on hope at the very moments when we don’t need the one and desperately need the other. This is horror of a philosophical, humanistic bent, examining the nightmares of politics and religion on the small scale upon which they act upon individuals, as well as our propensity to dispense with reason at the drop of a hat… or a tentacle. For all its fantastical elements, this is as grounded and as immediate and as real as movies get. This is “horror” the way that Rod Serling told it — think the creepy societal breakdown of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” and you’ve got it.

The civil disaster is an ordinary one: a gusty storm knocks down trees and brings down power lines in one of those outwardly charming, secretly insidious Stephen King small towns. But did it also knock out the power at the local army base, wherein, it is rumored, is housed the remains of a crashed flying saucer and dead alien bodies? This is the stuff of the polite, time-passing chatter strained neighbors David Drayton (Thomas Jane: The Punisher, Stander) and Brent Norton (Andre Braugher: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Poseidon) engage in as they drive, with David’s young son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), into town to pick up supplies to board up windows, and groceries before the shelves are picked clean. They’re all in the supermarket when a thick mist descends, obscuring the view out the plate-glass windows beyond a few feet. And then a bloodied man runs into the store, screaming about monsters in the strange fog…

It’s quiet inside the store for a while, the couple of dozen people trapped by their uncertainty over what’s happening but not yet giving in to panic. That begins to happen soon enough, however, when no rescue comes and, well, other, more deadly things begin to occur. It’s all smartly, brilliantly, paced, not just the more traditional aspects of what you’d expect from a horror movie — those things with the tentacles in the mist are vicious buggers — but the collapse of the civilization as represented by the little supermarket society. Tribes start to form along sharply drawn lines, drifting toward either David and his calm logic or Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden: Into the Wild, The Dead Girl), a vocal proponent of hellfire-and-brimstone Biblical literalism, and her preaching about how this is the promised Armageddon, and boy, is God pissed with us or what? (She’s the most terrifying thing about the movie, no question.)

There’s an almost orgasmic rise and fall to The Mist in how it scares the hell out of you via the monsters of both the human and the creature varieties, lets you relax with a tension-relieving laugh or two — though the film never indulges in a snarky joke that would break the satisfyingly grim mood — and then starts on you all over again. And if the movie worked purely as that kind of intellectual roller coaster ride and nothing else, that would have been more than enough. But it also offers finely drawn portraits of the kind of positive strength movies of this ilk — or any ilk — rarely see, of a real-masculinity not about bombast or machismo but built up of courage in the face of one’s own fear and a refusal to descend into easy animality… and not just in the obvious hero character of David but also in, say, the apparently meek supermarket manager played by the ever-essential Toby Jones (The Painted Veil, Infamous). Hell, even the woman customer played by Laurie Holden (Fantastic Four, The Majestic), who teams up with David, is strong and capable and genuine — so let’s call it not just real-masculinity but real-humanity.

It’s impossible to guess quite what’s going on or quite how Darabont — who took some liberties with King’s material — can possibly resolve his story in a way that will completely gratify. But he does. How it ends… well, I couldn’t move from my seat, I was that blown away by the power of it. It’s absolutely right, exactly the kind of uncompromising kicker it needs to be to ensure that The Mist haunts you for a good long while with its shocking reminder of how we can be our own worst enemies in all ways imaginable.

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