Frank Darabont was responsible for the most revered of Stephen King adaptations – The Shawshank Redemption. It took years for the film to be properly appreciated, whereas his other attempt, The Green Mile, was a box office hit. The Mist is his first adaptation of one of King’s straight horror stories, and it almost works.
The main problem and also best quality of The Mist is that everyone involved takes himself or herself really seriously. The setup is methodical and brilliantly paced. After a freak storm an eerie mist blankets the town of Maine (where else?). It’s established pretty quickly that there is something in the mist also, and it’s rather carnivorous. A group of townsfolk gather in the supermarket and it’s here that the majority of the film plays out.
Like many good horror films, the danger comes from within rather than without. The narrative essentially portrays the group as a microcosm of society. As fear spreads, they turn on each other, eager to lay the blame on someone. Thomas Jane is solid if uninspiring as David Drayton, a family man caught up in events. His son Billy is played by Nathan Gamble, and he is truly talented. Every year a couple of new child actors come to the fore who blow the adults away, and here is the first for ’08. Marcia Gay Harden plays religious zealot Mrs. Carmody, and delivers a chilling performance, one that could have easily been laughable in the wrong hands.
Darabont has crafted a brilliant screenplay. Without a word of redundant dialogue, he sets up the tension from the very outset. Even before the mist arrives, we learn that there is quite a divide between the locals and the visiting city folk. There are no particularly racial clashes, but it’s clear Darabont isn’t a fan of religious fundamentalism. The conversations and disagreements are logical and methodical, just like King’s writing, and the characters are very intelligent, a nice change from victims who run upstairs whenever danger looms in horror films.
Unfortunately the creatures look terrible. The story goes that Darabont waived a much higher budget in favour of maintaining the integrity of the script. Whilst this was an admirable move, it may have been a better idea to keep the monsters hidden from view a little more. Other than this, the film looks great, and special mention should be made of the cinematography. Rather than the handheld style so popular right now, it employs a kind of ‘drifting’ camera, presumably with the use of a steadycam, and succeeds in not only creating a documentary feel, but keeps the rather static staging interesting. Paul Greengrass could learn a thing or two from this. I’ll leave it to Mark to write him another letter. The Mist also gets points for including Dead Can Dance’s ‘The Host of Seraphim’, a tune I’ve long maintained is one of the most beautiful ever recorded.
As much as I was behind this film, behind King’s story and Darabont’s vision, I had to suppress a giggle once or twice, and this is what it comes down to. In going for sincerity, the film frequently feels a silly, when in fact we should be shocked or awed. Horror aficionados will enjoy The Mist for its strengths, and appreciate diversions from the genre. More casual viewers will probably find it inadvertently funny and more than a little stupid.Rating: