I admit that I wasn’t expecting much from the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, The Mist. I thought it might be a fun-scary movie — the kind that jolts you out of your seat with fright but isn't all that memorable. Yet just as the otherwordly mist in the film creeps into a small town in Maine and traps unsuspecting shoppers in a grocery store, The Mist crept up on me, making me realize I was in for a terrifying hour and a half. If you’re looking for quickie scares that will evaporate by the time the movie’s over, look elsewhere. The Mist is a disturbing film that taps into primal fears and real world terrors, and its doomsday mood will stay with you long after you exit the theater.
David Drayton (Thomas Jane) is a movie poster artist whose house is damaged one night after an electrical storm. Together with his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) and neighbor Brent (Andre Braugher) — with whom he's had tense relations in the past — he rides into town to buy groceries. There at the grocery store, the ordinary becomes extraordinary: a dense, white mist surrounds the building, an earthquake rattles its foundations, and a man materializes from the eerie whiteness, blood dripping from his nose, shouting "There's something in the mist! It took John Lee!" Scared yet? Well,
What is this "something in the mist"? We get some visual clues: a giant octopus-like tentacle attacks a grocery clerk, spidery creatures menace a group as they venture out to get medicine for an ailing man, and a flock of prehistoric-looking insects invade the store. Where did this dangerous mist with its monsters come from? Is it a pollution cloud? Did the nearby military police unleash aliens from another world? Or, as the town religious fanatic Mrs. Carmody (a creepy Marcia Gay Harden) suggests, have they come to exact God's bloodthirsty revenge as a sign of the End of Days?
Like the great disaster films of the 1970s (The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure), The Mist's narrative tension (and horror) comes as much from the characters' interactions as from the monsters the mist occasionally spits out. In the midst of a social breakdown, what groups form and who leads them? What ties dissolve? How do race, politics and religion factor in?
With a terrific cast and special effects that do not upstage the human characters, The Mist keeps one foot in the imaginary with CGI monsters and supernatural hints, and one foot firmly planted in our real fears: unchecked military or scientific activity, the breakdown of society, the end of the world. It also has one of the most shocking endings I've ever seen. Like a blank screen onto which we can project our fears, The Mist suggests but it doesn't resolve.
Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company