Marcia Gray Harden
Frank Darabont has a long history with both Stephen King and horror, but only rarely have these two histories collided. Although Darabont co-wrote the screenplays for Nightmare on Elms Street 3: Dream Warriors, The Blob and The Fly II, he is best known for his feature debuts as writer/director, the prison films Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999), both adapted from King stories outside of the horror genre. But now The Mist brings him back to both King and horror, although his previous films’ themes of incarceration and faith still remain conspicuously in place.
After a savage overnight storm, artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) heads off through a rolling mist to the supermarket with his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble), seeking supplies to repair the damage to their home but just as they are lining up to pay, a bleeding man (Jeffrey DeMunn) runs out of the parking lot, warning everyone to lock the store’s doors and stay inside. “Something in the mist!” he exclaims.
Sure enough, before you can say Cloverfield, Darabont and his effects team are both treating and terrifying us with a whole bestiary of insectoid and arachnid monsters that range in size from big to colossal and each come with their own deadly method of attack but this film is less concerned with creature-feature mechanics or reportage-style shaky-cam than with the microcosm of society that it creates behind the supermarket’s flimsy glass doors, all trapped and panicking, and soon tearing each other apart.
David’s litigious neighbour Norton (Andre Braugher) appoints himself the face of rational denial, the military presence lays low and says little, while batty Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) starts building her own army of god-fearing converts who cry out ominously for expiation and sacrifice. Stuck in the middle, David and a dwindling band of others just want to get out alive but David too comes with his own tragic flaws…
It may have been way back in 1980 that King published the novella on which The Mist is based, but Darabont’s screenplay transforms the original into a thoroughgoing examination of the politics of fear and the dangers of knee-jerk response, blind compliance or self-destructive despair. In other words, this film could only have emerged from the post-9/11 context. It hardly matters that the menace outside is explained ambiguously at best, and that religious, supernatural or scientific explanations might all equally apply what matters is that there is something out there, as nebulous and deadly as the ill-defined Terror with which we are currently all meant to be at War, and although the destruction that it causes is very real, it also tends to bring out the very worst in those that are its victims.
“I’m sorry,” one hapless soldier declares, moments before his death. In their place, his words mean one thing but by the end, they could be shared by many others who have done unspeakable things in the face of unspeakable horror.
Like Shyamalans Signs (2002) but without the salvationist coda, The Mist is a bleak look at what happens when faith, hope and charity have all got lost in the fog. We should expect nothing less from a horror film but what is more, it is well acted, at times grimly funny, and as claustrophobic as a short stay on death row (with no reprieve in sight). Darabont, a past master of escapism and redemption, is here offering us the first real glimpse of his misanthropic side. It is great to see – even with visibility so low.