Friday, October 15, 2010
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.