Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: The Mist

If movies like The Mist are anything to go by, I would not last an hour in an honest-to-goodness crisis situation.

I'd like to think that movies are wrong about this point. What I mean is, in the movies people freak out easily. Tempers flare and people work at cross purposes, and somebody is always holding somebody else against the wall by his or her collar and making the kind of threats you'd never make in real life. Yes, I know people fall apart sometimes in real life, but when I think of my coworkers and the people I see on a regular basis, I'm pretty sure we could survive without blowing up at each other, at least until the food actually runs out.

The food does not run out in The Mist, but that's really the least of the problems. Let me back up.

The Mist opens in a small town in Maine where a violent thunderstorm causes severe property damage. The power is out and the phones are dead, and everyone notices a mist coming in over the lake.. Artist David Drayton's boat house is ruined when a tree falls on it from his neighbor's yard. Drayton heads next door to get insurance information, and discovers that his neighbor's car has been demolished by a different felled tree. David and his neighbor Norton head into town for groceries with David's 8-year-old son, Billy, and the two men consider burying the hatchet over the property lawsuit which destroyed their friendship last year.

They pass several military vehicles on the way into town, and the grocery store is packed with people stocking up on necessities, just in case the outage lasts longer than expected. As the mist outside thickens, the town's tornado sirens sound, and a man with a bloody face charges into the store demanding that something in the mist has taken his friend. Nobody believes him, but screams coming from the mist suggest that maybe it's not a good idea to go outside right now. The store's backup generator isn't running, and David is deputized by Ollie, the assistant manager, to go into the back and have a look. Something outside the loading dock is banging on the door.

No one believes David or Ollie, so a bag boy goes outside to fix the problem with the generator and gets torn apart by a toothy tentacle. Few people have witnessed this, however, so when Norton is told that something in the mist has tentacles and is eating people, he thinks he's being made fun of. He gathers a small group who head outside to find help, but no one comes back. Well, Norton does. Half of him does, anyway.

As I said earlier, tempers flare and people work at cross purposes, and somebody always seems to be holding somebody else against the wall by his or her collar and making the kind of threats you'd never make in real life. The local holier-than-thou Ultrachristian starts telling people that they will be judged and extinguished for their sins, and she starts garnering followers. The saner members of the group realize that the cult will probably start sacrificing people by pushing them outside, which is exactly what happens. Then things get weirder, as giant, flesh eating insects start showing up outside, and even bigger ones start breaking in. A desperate expedition to the local pharmacy yields the revelations that the things are incubating inside of their victims, and that the military is somehow responsible. David and the small number of sane survivors he's been hanging around with decide it's time to leave.

I've never read the Stephen King novella upon which The Mist is based, but I hear it's a good adaptation. Unsurprising, because it was helmed by Frank Darabont who was responsible for The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, which are arguably the best Stephen King adaptations ever made (certainly better than Maximum Overdrive, which was Stephen King's personal attempt at adapting Stephen King). There was a lot to like here, and the threat of unknown monsters in the mist is a refreshing alternative to the torture porn that Hollywood was (and is) trying to pass off as horror. This is not really a kind of horror I seek out--because it's actually scary, and there's no Vincent Price or Christopher Lee cackling in the shadows--but it's a good movie. It's appropriately claustrophobic and it moves along at a good clip without being stupidly relentless and just when I kept thinking of good arguments against the plot, some new element would come in and seal it up. The big secret of the plot--sorry to spoil it--is that the window carved in space-time by the military scientists up on the hill has turned out to be more like a door, and all the denizens of Elsewhere have come pouring in. It's a pretty common idea in modern science fiction, but never mind--it works.

The other thing that works is the everybody-stuck-in-a-small-space-while-things-outside-try-to-get-in element of the story, which has been so overplayed by zombie movies and Alien knockoffs, but still works if you can do it right (The Mist does). This is a bit of an achievement because Thomas Jane (David Drayton) doesn't look like a leading man to me, and Marcia Gay Harden's excessively devout Mrs. Carmody jerks Jesus a little too hard for me to believe that she hasn't been institutionalized. Also, King has a habit of populating his stories with cookie-cutter characters (William Sadler as the pointlessly aggressive contrarian, Frances Sternhagen as an elementary school teacher so old she still uses the word "biddy"...) which I find annoying, but I should stop complaining, because I liked this movie, really, and I was impressed--if downcast--by the ending, which I was not expecting.

Here's the trailer:
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