Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007)



UPDATE: I've actually stopped doing this, since I offered the caveat with my first few posts that all horror film entries contain spoilers, but Mr. Conkel pointed out that my readers may benefit from a reminder, especially with this post. So be forewarned there are some hardcore spoilers in this entry.



Considering our past show, I figure it's fitting to do an entry on a film based on a story by Stephen King.

With The Mist, director Frank Darabont expanded his forte from adaptations of Stephen King prison novels (The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) to, well, I guess, stuff by King in general (we'll pretend The Majestic didn't happen). The Mist is a variation and expansion on the old sci-fi horror/monster movies from the 1950s (It Came From Outer Space, War of the Worlds, The Day the Earth Stood Still) and even George Romero's Night of the Living Dead but is significantly less about the horrific beasties eating everyone alive and more about regular folk dealing with the completely implausible.

It also has one of the most soul-crushing endings to a mainstream horror film ever made.

After a violent thunderstorm in a small town in Maine, professional painter David Drayton (played by Thomas Jane), who, fittingly, is finishing a portrait of Roland from King's Dark Tower series, assesses the damage done to his property with his neighbor, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher). Clearly the two of them have a tense history, but we currently don't know why. After assessing the damage and noticing an odd mist approaching them from the lake, Brent and David decide to go buy supplies from the supermarket. David leaves behind his wife, Steff (Kelly Collins Lintz) and brings along his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble).

Along the way to the supermarket, they're noticing convoys of military keeps and trucks speed in the other direction.

While in the supermarket, the mist engulfs the store. Someone runs out of his car screaming about there being something in the mist. Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a Bible-thumping crazy person of the fire-and-brimstone variety, starts babbling about this being the End of Days.

And we find out that there is, indeed, something in that eponymous mist. Or to be more specific, several somethings. And they don't intend on playing nice.

The bulk of the movie deals with the people trapped in the supermarket dealing with the weird monsters that come out of the supernatural mist. And there's also another problem: Mrs. Carmody is gaining followers and proving to be an equally dangerous presence.

Early on in the film, David tells the store staff that he heard a large banging from outside, which makes the bag boys investigate and get (unsurprisingly) attacked. When I first saw the film, I was a bit turned off by this scene. I was thinking, "Come on! Are we really playing the, 'let's go down that long, dark corridor to investigate something ominous?' But afterward, when David talks with the grocery store's assistant manager Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones), Ollie tells David: "Leave it alone, David. You can't convince some people there's a fire even when their hair is burning. Denial is a powerful thing."

This is not only a plausible and insightful explanation to the grocery clerks' seemingly inexplicable behavior, but it's pretty much the theme of the movie: people from the real world dealing - or not dealing - with the unreal.

As is often the case with most of these entries, I do feel compelled to point out the film's flaws. (Is this due residual guilt or overcompensation for championing a genre that most consider - especially in the sometimes snooty realm of theatre - beneath them? Perhaps, perhaps.) The biggest - and most glaring - flaw is of course how Andre Braugher's character, Brent Norton is handled. The film sets up Brent and David to be the narrative's driving forces (possibly as reluctant allies, possibly as antagonistic and divisive opposites). They have a tense past (something concerning a failed lawsuit over a property dispute) and it appears as though the ice is thawing between them.

Then when the weirdness happens, part of Norton's mind shuts down, refusing to acknowledge that the supernatural has descended upon them. So, he decides to leave the supermarket (to presumably be snatched up by the beasties in the mist), and we never see or hear from him again. In fact, the moment after he leaves the store, he's barely ever mentioned again.

Now, okay, I'll admit that his mind's refusal to accept the reality of the situation (simply because it's so unreal) is a neat premise and one that's rarely if ever handled so explicitly in horror films (one of the great things about King's writing is that he often deals with this concept very astutely). However, if you consider the entire arc of the film, if Darabont were to completely excise Braugher's character and subplot from The Mist, aside from the run-time, it would change nothing - Noth. Ing. - about the film's arc, story, or outcome.

Maybe I'm taking this harder than I should. Having recently watched the entire series of Homicide, I've become a huge Braugher fan and am disappointed that he works so rarely. But seriously, if you're going to put an actor of Braugher's caliber in your movie, freakin' use him!

Okay, enough on that.

Now. About that ending.

As many people have no doubt heard by now, the ending of the movie differs from that of the novella. King's original story ends very open and with the possibility of hope. Darabont's film continues the action a little further to reveal a darker - much darker - conclusion.

Driving through the mist with four other survivors (Ollie, alas, doesn't get much further than the parking lot before being swiftly dealt with by one monster), David returns home to find his wife has fallen victim to the spider-like creatures. So, he drives the group south, witnessing the destruction left in the wake of the mist and encountering a tentacled beastie walking past them. Eventually, they run out of gas without finding any other survivors.

While Billy is sleeping, the four adults decide there's no point in going any further. With four bullets left in the gun and five people in the car, David shoots the three adults and his son, Billy (Billy, who's been sleeping, of course wakes up just in time to see his father aiming the gun at him). David attempts to shoot himself with the now-empty gun before getting out of the car to let the creatures in the mist take him.

He hears what sounds like a creature moving toward him, but instead turns out to be a self-propelled gun, followed by a long column of other military vehicles and soldiers. As the mist dissipates, several trucks filled with survivors pass by. David falls to his knees screaming while soldiers continue destroying the monsters and clearing out the mist.

When I first watched this I swear I thought was some sort of dream sequence or fake-out until the credits began to roll. This was made by the same guy that ended a drab prison film with the two protagonists hugging each other on a beach somewhere by the Pacific Ocean and made that treacle The Majestic (okay, so I didn't completely forget about that entry on his resume)?

Perhaps a justification for the ending comes just before David & Co. escape the supermarket. Preparing to leave, David and his group are intercepted by Mrs. Carmody, who demands that Billy is to be sacrificed. As the crowd advances to grab Billy, Ollie shoots and kills Mrs. Carmody.

Ollie says he had no choice. David agrees with him without hesitation. And we in the audience aren't exactly crying even crocodile tears for batshit crazy Mrs. Carmody (Harding and Darabont pull out all the stops to make her insufferably shrill and hateful). He had no choice.

Except...he could have just fired a warning shot in the air or clipped her arm or leg, couldn't he? He didn't absolutely have to kill her (at least, not just then he didn't). Could the horrific endings our heroes receive be the result of karmic (or Divine) justice? Was Mrs. Carmody, in fact, speaking the truth?

I mean, that may be as good an answer as any for how things turn out for the heroes of the movie.

Or maybe I'm just trying to cling onto some idea of sense in such a horrific ending. And maybe that's the point: the finale takes the concept of real people dealing with unreal situations to the furthest extreme. (David's last coherent line in the movie is, "They're...they're dead. For what?" Well yes. Exactly so.)

At any rate, it's a real doozy of a note to end on for something touting itself as a '50s style monster flick.

As is the case with Gremlins, The Mist falls into that "Superior B Monster Movie" subcategory. And if you can, watch the film in black and white, the way the director intended.

Shopping online from now on,

James "The Drizzle" Comtois

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6 Comments:

Anonymous ian mackenzie said...

Hi James,

I like your insights here, especially the karmic resolution to evil. I had never made that connect.

I am surprised however, that you've made only passing mention of what for me was the most incredible moment of the film:

The tentacled "beastie" near the end is the single biggest human scale monster I've ever seen in a film. When I saw it walking across the landscape in the background I just about lost my shit. Visually. Amazing. It's so tall, you don't even really see it.

But also, it was the moment that sold through the "assisted suicide" ending. As if to say, you think you've seen the worst of this mist, check out the 700-story monster that hasn't even attacked you yet.

Devastating.

I actually found the supermarket melodrama kind of dicey. I didn't particularly buy Marcia Gay Harden's performance (though many have said it's this performance that makes the film).

Their escalation to barbarism seemed way too quick. I almost would have preferred a more straight-ahead isolation scenario.

(Which reminds me of another, similar construct that bugged me about an otherwise flawless film. Remember the military stronghold at the end of "28 days later"? The one where all the soldiers had become rapists . . . I don't know. Didn't work for me. That said, Brian DePalma's "Redacted" makes a good argument for what happens to military folk when they lose their bearings. FUBAR.)

OK. Outta 10. What are you giving "The Mist"?

1:48 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

My sister also pointed out that if Ollie hadn’t shot Mrs. Camrody, they would’ve had enough bullets, so David wouldn’t have known that he had killed everyone for nothing.

As for the giant beast you saw, yes, it is spectacular. That’s my one big regret in (full disclosure) not seeing this movie on the big screen (just on a very big HD flat screen TV), so maybe the impact wasn’t as big for me.

The melodrama for me was off-putting at first (witness my “What the hell is this crap?” reaction to the bag boys opening the garage door after David said, “Don’t do that!”), but on repeat viewings, I actually enjoy it. I like the heightened sense of everyone’s responses to things. We’re watching the dissolution of civilization in sped-up microcosm, so the stakes and histrionics kicking up a notch in a very short time is very fitting to the movie as a whole.

But then again, I didn’t have the same problem with 28 Days Later, since you get the impression raping the women to make babies as on the agenda the whole time.

Well, this one’s tough, since I really don’t think of things in terms of scales of one to ten, but if I must, I’d give the movie a 7.5. Why not an 8? Because of the stuff with Mr. Braugher’s character.

2:02 PM  
OpenID tarhearted said...

For some reason, all of my friends hated this movie except my boyfriend and I. And I man friends who are horror fans.

I thought it was spectacular, though I've never read the novella. I actually loved the super bleak ending too. (by the way, shouldn't you post a spoiler alert?)

I agree with Ian. The giant monster at the end took my breath away.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

You may be right about spoiler alerts: I actually prefaced my first few horror entries with the caveat that all of them from here on out will contain spoilers, but I'll reinstate that at the top of all of them.

What's interesting about the novella is that it actually ends with them escaping the supermarket and heading toward's David's house, so everything is totally open-ended. Tasha Robinson from The Onion AV Club points out that the film's ending doesn't come completely out of thin air: in the novella, there is an oblique reference to David realizing there are five of them and only four bullets, but will worry about that when he needs to.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Zack said...

I saw this in the theatres and absolutely loved it. Also important is the fact that the woman who walked into the mist earlier in the film asking for Thomas Jane's help is on that truck of survivors.

The irony is ooul crushing and beautiful. I believe the film was a comment on the U.S. response to 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks.

God, I love this film.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous the disapproving centaur said...

I was upset that he cut my scene in when I shot the leviathan with my bow and arrow from the movie.

Oh and Comtois, "beasties" is not the proper nomenclature. "Mythical American", please.

clop, clop . . . clop, clop

1:08 PM  

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