Friday, October 15, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 15: The Mist

Frank Darabont just plain gets it. I’m not just talking about Stephen King, though I’d be hard pressed to name a filmmaker who gets King's particular style better.

But even outside his work with King, Darabont is just one of those filmmaker who I trust intrinsically. I may not like every movie Darabont has been involved in. But I know at the very least there will be more thought and care in each one of his films then there is in the average Hollywood quarter. In other words I may not like ever Darabont film. But I respect every one of them.

And there’s not a one I respect more then The Mist. Both as a superb piece of craftsmanship, and the fact that it exists at all. It’s an old school movie in the best sense. Taking it’s time to develop it’s characters and tension. Disturbing in its implications, ruthless in its execution.

It's fitting that I spent the first week of this 31 Days covering John Carpenter, as The Mist reminds me of nothing so much as The Thing remade as one of Carpenter's siege flicks. Indeed I'd argue any day that it's the best straight up monster movie since The Thing.

And you all know how much I love The Thing.

The Mist of course is the Stephen King story about a small town supermarket grocery store that is cut off from the rest of the world (assuming the rest of the world still exists) by a supernatural mist. Though the monsters that prowl in the mist are threats, it’s the human cast put under pressure in a confined space that are the true threat. It takes the same basic formula as King’s great "Under The Dome". Take a group of people. Eliminate hope and escape. Watch them eat one another.

The focus is on Thomas Jane, as a father desperate to protect his son, by any means necessary. And Marcia Gay Harding as a crazed church lady who makes Piper Laurie look like a disinterested Protestant, and whips the survivors into a frenzy. There was some controversy over the treatment of her character. Particularly since Darabont’s script changed her more general “Crazy Ass Old Backwoods Lady” archetype to a “Crazy Ass Christian Archetype”. But unlike Laurie’s performance in Carrie, the film humanizes Harding and one can’t say the satire isn’t unearned. In one of the films most effective moments, the yokel who initially disparaged Harding the loudest is shown praying most fervently out of her congregation. The target of the satire isn’t so much Christianity, as the way that when people are truly desperate for an answer, they aren’t too particular about what that answer is.

The film is a master class in structure, slowly building it’s chacters and tension, and filled with tension like the devastating, perversely beautiful, hypnotically paced final drive through the mist and pitiless end twist that are simply unforgettable.

The Mist was made on the cheap. And in the weightless CGI it shows. Sure it perhaps can’t create the world’s most realistic looking monsters. But its uses the power of suggestion to scare. And the behavior of humans to terrify.

And yet thanks to Darabont’s skill, his limited means never once feel like a detriment. The film’s most effective scene uses the simple jerking of a rope to suggest unimaginable horror. The second most effective involves some Spider webs and the types of fake limbs one sees at a community theater’s haunted house. You want to talk pure cinema? The Mist is pure cinema. Every moment that works (AKA most of the movie) in it is a testament to how well Frank Darabont understands how to make movies.


Chris Regan said...

Great write-up of one of my favourite films of recent years. I wish more horror films were like this one!

Paul said...

This is another one of my favorites...the only thing that bugs me is the ending. I mean, sure, there's no hope but they come to the final solution to their problem waaaaay too quickly. If it were me, I say, "Nah, man, I'm good for right now but if you guys want to go ahead".

Thomas Jane doesn't have much range as an actor but he does really well in the aftermath.

Have you watched the black and white version in the two-DVD edition? It really helps with the at-times wonky CGI and really makes it feel like an old school horror movie.

Emily said...

Excellently said Bryce. I was initially put off by Harden's zealot, but what I like about her is how she's able to take advantage of the crowd's fear and sound, even to this here agnositcally atheist, like someone worth listening to when giant bugs are eating your face. What the hell else are you gonna do?

Also, that spidery scene is horrific because man, I FELT that pain. Love a movie that gives you a new spin on an old death.

And if you haven't already, allow me to recommend watching the black and white version on disc 2. It just looks so right.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Chris Regan: Yeah character based, with cool concepts, tense plotting, and excellent make up. We can all dream that's the norm.

@ Paul: Yeah. I agree. But still I think it's BECAUSE it was such a snap judgement is what makes it sting so bad.

@ Emily: Damn straight on everything you said. I do love the B&W version. Unfortunately I only own the color one.

Lorant said...

this is a very good movie!
king is the KING

TheGirlWhoLovesHorror said...

Mmmm, The Mist is fantastic! One of King's older short stories, but obviously still a wonderful story not just about monsters in the mist but how fear and panic can change people, mob psychology, and fear of the unknown. The ending is different than the story and most every regular movie-goer HATED the downer ending, but I thought it was great. I wish Darabont would do Cell.
The black and white version is indeed very cool!

Bryce Wilson said...

Darabont's Cell would possibly be the coolest thing ever.

J.D. said...

I love this film also and I'm glad that Darabont had the balls to go through with the downbeat ending. It really evokes the nihilist '70s horror film and is such a gut-punch after everything that came before. I heard that Darabont is keen on adapting King's THE LONG WALK and doing it as an indie film in order to be faithful to the source material. It would be a helluva depressing movie but a good one, I think.

Bryce Wilson said...

I take that back Darabont's The Long Walk would be the greatest thing ever.

I am absurdly excited for The Walking Dead.

TheGirlWhoLovesHorror said...

Oh true that! The Long Walk is my second favorite King book (Bag of Bones is the first). But the Long Walk movie has been in talks for years; I hope it comes through. I'd like to see that done before Cell, even. It would be even greater as an indie film, too, more true to the story and probably a lot more gripping.

Bryce Wilson said...

@TGWLH: Big Bag Of Bones fan myself.

Yeah it really is a film you could do without a huge budget.

I mean really what do you need?