It seems like 2007 has been an odd year for horror. Even though Hollywood seems keen to cash-in on “torture porn” films like Saw IV, Captivity, and Hostel Part II, there have been a few movies that have transcended the shock to genuinely give you a bit more of a true scare.
Although horror author Stephen King is quoted as defending the current style of horror films stating, “sure it makes you uncomfortable, but good art should make you uncomfortable” – he’s also the man responsible for two of this year’s best true traditional style horror movies. Both pulling from his short story supply, 1408 and The Mist make for more cerebral thrillers that leave behind the slashers and masked murderers to focus just on the raw terror that stems from the psychological torment and claustrophobia that King seems to savor putting his characters through.
The Mist also happens to be the third pairing of King’s writing and direction by Frank Darabont, who worked together on The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. While those films represented two of King’s better non-horror stories, The Mist marks the first for the duo to tackle what King does best – a scary story. And boy is it a bleak, scary story.
After a rather abrupt intro that introduces the wife, the son, the next-door neighbor, and our movie poster painting protagonist David Drayton (Thomas Jane), the story gets right into it with no time to waste. Everyone ends up at the local supermarket – a more 50’s era town market than Super Walmart – and the mist rolls right into town as the military seems to be heading out in a hurry. We meet the grocery store worker Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones), the wicked town bible-thumper Ms. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), and the new schoolteacher in town Amanda Dumfries (Laurie Holden), along with a supporting cast of townsfolk, patrons, and store employees who suddenly are all trapped within the store. The long and short of it is, the mist is bad, and if you’re not inside the store, you’re lunch for something out there.
The monsters happen to come in several forms of course ranging from acidic spiders, to prehistoric flying creatures, to bugs that could eat your cat. Oh and the tentacles, but who knows what they’re attached to. But none of them are as frightening as the real monsters – the people inside. The film quickly devolves to everyone taking sides as Ms. Carmody corrals the God-fearing folks and pits them against the barely sane survivors as they try to decide how to get out of it alive. The characters’ hope is all but completely lost which ultimately makes for a fantastic end-of-the-world scenario, and a twist ending that will leave you painfully aware of how every decision can change the outcome in the very worst way.
There are scenes where you are reminded it’s just a movie (those tentacles are really CGI shiny!), scenes that leave you wondering where the subplots disappear to as people start dropping off (cute bag-girl, nasty neighbor), and scenes that revel in the awesomeness of the huge monster moments closer to the end (look at the size of that thing!). It’s also a great humanistic story amidst the attacks of the beasties where religion, government, parenthood, loyalty, and courage are all put to the test.
Even though many people will have difficulty remembering and comparing this film to the critical atrocity remake that was The Fog, you shouldn’t mistake it for what is one of the darkest and creepiest creature features in recent years. Darabont’s fast-paced direction combined with King’s knack for realistic people-you-know characters makes for a truly welcome unnerving experience at the movies. You’re guaranteed to clench your seat, applaud when you-know-who gets their well-deserved fate, and hold your mouth open wide at the viciously rewritten ending which King warns us, “There should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last five minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead.” Well said Steve, well said.
On the Top 20. Nope. Top 250? Yeah, I think it’ll end up in there somewhere. Top 500. You betcha.