I always say to people that Frank Darabont is the only man who can truly make a great Stephen King adaptation. I’m not so sure I have the credentials to state that as fact, but I do anyways. I love The Shawshank Redemption, but never read Rita Hayworth… and I read The Green Mile, but still have yet to watch the film. So, I can’t quite compare his work with that of the author, however, that did little to temper my anticipation for his first based on a supernatural story, with The Mist. Early buzz was that he completed the hat trick; even with some unavoidable clichés inherent to the genre, he was able to create something unique and terrifying. I have to say that I agree whole-heartedly. The tale that he has spun and the performances that he has wrenched from his actors are nothing short of spectacular. With the amount of tension built up, you hardly have time to notice the somewhat mediocre effects work and token moments of horror tradition. Whereas someone less capable would have tried to tell the tale of humanity versus the otherworldly beasts outside their grocery store cage, Darabont tells it how it really is—fear of the unknown turning man against man. There is no scarier monster than the one hidden inside us all.
We aren’t given very much background at all. Thrown into the plot by a huge storm knocking power out and leaving destruction in its wake, we don’t have much time before we are taken to the grocery store that becomes our setting for almost the entire duration. These are not two-dimensional characters, though, and through their conversations with each other, we glean a lot about who they are. It helps that this is a small town where everyone knows everyone, and they all make sure each other knows it. You have to love the old retired teacher calling you an underachiever right before you go out to risk your life against creatures straight from another dimension. The occupations of everyone plays into the plot course too, from a movie poster artist trying to tell the group that he saw tentacles attempting to take them out into the mist, to a lawyer doing his best to see the practicality of the situation and necessity of evidence before being convinced. They all have one thing in common, though, and that is the need for protection, the need for a herd to follow. As Armageddon plays out on the other side of the glass windows, fear takes hold, pitting faith against rationality, morality opposite ceremonial sacrifice.
Darabont has his cinematographer stay in very close throughout the movie. With extremely tight compositions, we are able to see the emotions and the chaos reflected by each actor’s eyes. Everyone handles the pressure differently and the filmmakers don’t cop-out from showing us each. The feeling leads to some claustrophobic moments, but also some wonderful action pieces, showing us the brutality and violence up close with no question or ambiguity to what happened. Towards the end, we are given a witch-hunt sequence between the zealots and the pragmatists. It is just a breathtaking piece of cinematic splendor, beautifully orchestrated despite its cruel subject matter and unabashed frankness. If you want to see grotesque, remorseless creatures, just take a glimpse at your neighbor. I’m sure it is there just below the surface, waiting for an opportunity to come up for air and latch onto the coattails of the nearest person crazy enough to think they know the answers and that they alone can lead the rest to salvation.
The acting is simply phenomenal. An ensemble of so many recognizable faces has been compiled and no one misses a step. Thomas Jane is devastating as the father of a young boy doing his best to keep everyone calm while taking stock of the situation in an attempt to find a way out; Toby Jones gives a nice turn as the slightly nerdy store assistant manager who is constantly walked on until his true worth is shown; and Andre Braugher is effective as the foil to Jane, their rocky relationship evolving and devolving as each minute goes by. While everyone is fantastic, it is Marica Gay Harden that becomes the real tour de force. I have never been a huge fan of hers; she is solid for sure, but usually comes off as annoying to me. Here, though, she is the most frightening character on screen. Channeling God’s wishes through her demented skull leads to the separation into two factions of the survivors. If this wasn’t a genre flick I’d say she had a pretty decent shot at getting her second supporting actress Oscar.
Every note is played to perfection. Overcoming any crutches that the nature of horror/thrillers bring with them, Darabont has crafted an emotionally draining piece of cinema that leaves the audience gasping for air as though they have been kicked in the stomach. While the fights with the bug-like creatures are effective, they only play out as the first step to the battles within soon to come. I credit all involved for keeping the tone where it needed to be in order for success. This is an R-rated tale and it pulls no punches to that effect. Whereas most films of this ilk would take a simple route out of the carnage, we are allowed to watch all play out to its unavoidable end. Maybe the finale is obvious, but evenso, it is stripped down to the basic core of emotions. I knew it was coming yet it was still devastating to experience. Fear makes us all do that which we think we could never do and, if anything, The Mist is a cautionary tale to help us remember that one crucial and unbending fact of life.