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The New England area is supposedly one of the most beautiful parts of the United States and I never want to go there. The setting of many of Stephen King’s most famous works as well as those of H. P. Lovecraft and even the home of Irish writer John Connelly’s disturbed detective Charlie Parker the New England countryside and urban areas are home to monsters that exist deep within and without the human psyche. From Pennywise the Dancing Clown from IT to Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror it’s no wonder that New England, to me at least, is synonymous with monsters, madness and the macabre.
The Mist combines King’s talent for suspense with Lovecraft’s nightmarish creatures. Set mostly in a supermarket after a severe thunderstorm cuts the power and ushers in a thick, otherworldly mist Frank Darabont’s film adaptation gives new life to the mind-bending creatures rarely described in King’s novella. David Drayton (Thomas Jane) is trapped in the supermarket and struggles to survive the onslaught of monsters as well as the machinations of religious zealot Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) and her rapidly growing band of followers.
The Mist is a deeply affecting film. The run-of-the-mill dialogue at the beginning of the film sets a tone of small town comforts and blandness that Darabont quickly upends. Its characters are not all relatable, but they are at least understandable. In extreme situations people will latch onto whatever comfort they can, be it religion or rationality. As Darabont himself says “The story is less about the monsters outside than about the monsters inside, the people you’re stuck with, your friends and neighbours breaking under the strain.” Slowly but surely each character either dies, gives up or snaps. It’s a slow degradation leading up to the film’s gasping climax.
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The first to go is poor Norm. Pulled out of the loading bay by fanged tentacles the young man is ripped apart by the unseen creature. Others are eaten by weird flying dinosaur-like creatures, stung by huge insects or cut in half by enormous crabs. The film is vivid in its gore. The deaths are slow and painful. One man loses his leg to acidic spider webs and bleeds to death. A young woman is stung by an insect and suffocates as her neck swells grotesquely. In the film’s biggest slapstick moment, a young man trips over an alcohol filled mop bucket and sets himself on fire with his flaming mop. It’s almost ludicrous until the film tells us he dies of his burns making a disastrous trip outside to the pharmacy tragically pointless. It’s moments like these that make us believe that faith might be the only saving grace for these people.
Mrs Carmody begins the film as a social pariah and ends it as a cult leader. When the mist rolls in she believes it is the wrath of God. She sees the hulking monsters and swarms of insects as behemoths and locusts straight out of the old testament. As more and more people die still more flock to Carmody’s banner. Some of those who originally sided with David change sides as the situation becomes increasingly hopeless. When she is eventually shot by Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones) she falls Christ-like into the position of crucifixion. Her demands for the sacrifice of David’s son Billy and newcomer Amanda Dumfries (Laurie Holden) are what force the film into its gut-wrenching conclusion.
Before the film’s climax however certain scenes do tend to drag. The action is muscular and brutal often shot with handhelds and feels real despite the film’s mid-range budget. Frank Darabont is very good at adapting Stephen King’s work. Both his adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are Oscar-nominated but Jesus do they stretch on. At over three hours The Green Mile is by-and-large a direct translation to screen of King’s novel. That’s probably the reason King and Darabont get on so well; neither really know how to trim the fat. Certain dramatic scenes in The Mist do tend to run a little too long especially near the start as Darabont dives into the mundanity of small-town life. But the weighty performances are enough to forgive the film of these melodramatic leanings.
Thomas Jane has appeared in three Stephen King adaptations The Mist, the woeful Dreamcatcher and the well-received 1922. His performance in The Mist is probably the most sympathetic given how crap Dreamcatcher is and his murderous intent in 1922. His character’s driven nature in the face of such mentally taxing horrors is admirable though it’s Toby Jones as Ollie Weeks that really steals the show. The Mist is the closest Jones will get to an action hero role. His proficiency in target shooting makes him responsible for the film’s only gun which leads to some air-punching moments of heroism. Some characters are merely weak points in the pressure cooker that is the supermarket, but their slow degradation is a sight to behold. It foreshadows that final, crowning atrocity.
Once Mrs Carmody is shot by Ollie, David and his son along with Amanda and several others make a break for David’s jeep. Only David, Billy, Amanda and an elderly man and woman make it however. Their plan is to drive until the mist clears or until they run out of fuel. On their slow crawl through the foggy, empty countryside they come across several tragic sights such as David’s wife strung up in a web and a school bus full of children in a similar condition. At one point huge footsteps rock the car as a monolithic creature walks above them. Its six legs reach hundreds of feet into the air and its body is as big as a blue whale, covered in a writhing mass of tentacles and leather flaps. It is at this point that they run out of fuel.
But David still has Ollie’s gun. As the creatures of the mist howl and hiss all around the jeep four gunshots illuminate the car interior. Moments later as David tries to commit suicide by attracting the attention of the monsters the mist clears and a military convoy rolls by carrying survivors. Ten years on the ending of The Mist rivals even the most visceral of endings. It forced us to endure human suffering without ever allowing us to look away much like other horror greats like The Thing or The Babadook. If nothing else the final few shots will leave you breathless with horror as Frank Darabont reveals the monster inside.