Unless I Am Legend pulls an eleventh-hour Rocky come-from-behind, The Mist will stand as the best horror film of 2007. Frank Darabont, the director behind sentimental movies like The Shawshank Redemption and The Majestic, has given audiences something that will shock them, send them into bouts of uneasy laughter, and have them filing out of theaters stunned, confused, and angry.
This is really something else. The original short story numbers among King�s best works as a writer, and Darabont has translated the best aspects of the story to feature-film status. Best of all, he keeps King�s uncompromising view of human nature. Those who come in expecting a �horror� movie will get more than they bargained for.
Darabont keeps two things intact from his previous films: a stable of great character actors, and a slow, deliberate pace. These are key to the film�s success. Actors like William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Frances Sternhagen give full weight to people who are essentially fast sketches. And while Thomas Jane seems a bit too bulky for his job as a movie-poster artist, he makes for a sturdy center.
For those of you unfamiliar with the text, and the ad campaign that gives away nearly every plot point, a brief synopsis. David Drayton (Jane) and his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) head to the grocery store after a storm kills their electricity (and smashes their den). While they shop, a mist quietly engulfs the town and the store, trapping the two inside, along with a host of other characters, including Marcia Gay Harden�s Mrs. Carmody.
Her role deserves special attention: she plays a religious fanatic who considers the creatures in the Mist absolute validation by God. Her role requires a zeal and belief in herself that most viewers will scoff at, but before you dismiss her, remember: right after 9/11, televangelists were telling us that we brought it on ourselves through homosexuality and abortions. We dismissed them at the time, but imagine what might happen if the planes kept hitting. As the film notes, in hopeless situations, any solution feels better than none.
Darabont directs the story as a series of confrontations, alliances, and fights. At first, suspicion mounts between the natives and the out-of-towners. Andre Braugher�s Brent Norton, a big-city lawyer, refuses to accept the the realities of the Mist, and his stubbornness is so complete that it�s clearly borne of panic. He�s reacted to the trauma by completely denying it. His solution, the most practical in the film, is to get to a car and go for help.
Tension also mounts between class, as Jim (William Sadler) resents Drayton for his success, so much that he lets his bias show during a critical scene involving a steel door.
Ultimately, the real clash lies between Drayton and Carmody. David�s rationality betrays him, as he believes people won�t be so quick to join her side. But after a day of prehistoric bugs, she gains a few followers. Then a few more. And then some more. In her own twisted way, she�s not wrong. The events of the The Mist certainly seem apocalyptic, and if God�s Apocalypse comes, you can be damn sure most people want to be on His good side.
But I�m making this sound like a treatise, or a student�s essay on sociology. You can have the intellectual side if you want it, but even if you don�t, this movie delivers the horror goods. A scene with a rope is hard to beat for slow-mounting tension that jerks suddenly into gruesome horror. The confrontation with tentacles in the back room also proves a good rule of horror: scare the audience silly with one creature, then show seven more of them on the way.
Two scenes will likely give many unexpecting viewers nightmares. In one, a group of survivors journey to a nearby pharmacy to aid a dying friend. You won�t be surprised to learn that the pharmacy holds more than just medicine, but I didn�t expect a moment that matches the best of Cronenberg for sheer body-horror. The other sequence transpires when the two camps learn vital information from a soldier. Carmody and her gang comes to a conclusion that is completely expected until it actually happens and becomes one of the crueler moments in horror history.
The Mist reminds me of classic Rio Bravo horror movies like Night of the Living Dead and The Thing, in its ability to mix interpersonal animosity with the monstrous. Moreover, it does so with daring energy and a good amount of imagination. There�s a scene in the short story that evoked the dark majesty of Lovecraft, and Darabont honors it so well that, if you forgive the expression, I got misty-eyed.
By the end, Darabont has given us incredible sights, vivid characters, amazing scenes of horror, and a finale that will be debated and discussed for as long as horror movie are around. It will take repeat viewings for me to see if this film holds up to my immediate reaction, but, for the time being, The Mist is the best horror film since The Descent.