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Our review of The Mist: Two-Disc Collector's Edition, published April 28th, 2008, is also available.
Fear changes everything.
In the market, my muse suddenly shat on my head—this happened as it always does, suddenly, with no warning. I was halfway down the middle aisle, looking for hotdog buns, when I imagined a big prehistoric bird flapping its way toward the meat counter at the back, knocking over cans of pineapple chunks and bottles of tomato sauce. By the time my son Joe and I were in the checkout lane, I was amusing myself with a story about all these people trapped in a supermarket surrounded by prehistoric animals. I thought it was wildly funny—what The Alamo would have been like if directed by Bert I. Gordon. I wrote half the story that night and the rest the following week.
-- Stephen King on writing "The Mist," from Skeleton Crew
Facts of the Case
After a violent thunderstorm downs trees and power lines, a mysterious mist appears on Long Lake and begins to move toward the resort town of Bridgton, Maine. Commercial artist David Drayton (Thomas Jayne, The Punisher), his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble, The Dark Knight), and a neighbor with whom he has a contentious relationship (Andre Braugher, Homicide: Life on the Street) head into town to pick up supplies, leaving Drayton's wife behind. While the trio is at the market, the mist creeps closer. Everyone is spooked when a panicked man with a bloody nose (Jeffrey DeMunn, The Green Mile) rushes into the store announcing that something in the mist took his friend. Store manager Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones, The Painted Veil) locks the market doors as the shocked crowd watches the fast-moving mist envelope them. Something monstrous is out there. Religious fanatic Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock) claims it is the apocalypse, that God demands a sacrifice of blood. Faced with an unthinkable nightmare and palpable desperation, more and more of the crowd at the market begin to believe her rantings. But who among them should be sacrificed to turn back God's wrath?
Good horror movies—ones with qualities that transcend the giddy stomach-tickling feeling of momentary frights—are rare. Consider Robert Wise's The Haunting, a clinic in restrained, beautifully filmed gothic anxiety; or William Friedkin's The Exorcist, which couples wrenching horror with subtle characterizations and an intelligent existential inquisitiveness; or Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a stunning display of glum, nail-biting 16mm depravity; or John Carpenter's The Thing, a fine blend of gobsmacking creature effects and meditation on paranoia that ends with a sardonic acceptance of the cruelty of fate; or Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II, a frenetic assault of terror and comedy, both occurring simultaneously; or George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, a collection of gooey slaughters couched in tongue-in-cheek social commentary (Romero's later attempts at horror with a social conscience take themselves far too seriously). These are a sampling of the best the genre has to offer. Add Frank Darabont's The Mist to that list of elite American horror classics. It's that good.
Darabont's third feature film adaptation of material written by Stephen King (he also made a short film of "The Woman in the Room" from King's Night Shift collection of short stories), The Mist is the first time the writer-director has delved into the genre for which King is most famous: horror (for those not keeping score, Darabont previously adapted two prison tales by King, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile). For my money (and this will be sacrilege to Shawshank's many die-hard fans), The Mist stands head-and-shoulders above any of Darabont's other King adaptations, or any of his other films for that matter. While Hollywood has spent the past decade or so cranking out glossy, shallow remakes of Carpenter and Hooper, ripping off Japanese horror films involving creepy, dead-eyed children, or succumbing to meta-horror that underscores the artifice of its scare tactics even as it tries to make us jump in our seats (see, Scream), Darabont has fashioned a true, almost old-fashioned, modern classic.
In adapting "The Mist" for the big screen, Darabont drew inspiration from King's notes about the novella, quoted in the Opening Statement above. He made his movie in the style of a monster flick of the 1950s or '60s. In particular, he imitated the work of director Bert I. Gordon (Earth vs. the Spider), but shied away from the self-indulgent metafictional excesses of a movie like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse. Instead, Darabont made The Mist thoroughly modern, but with the atmosphere of old time monster pictures. And because he's a considerably more talented director than Gordon, his stab at low-budget horror is better constructed, less hokey, and has more visceral punch than anything in Gordon's oeuvre. And the The Mist is, indeed, a low-budgeter. It was shot quickly and for little money (the Box Office Mojo web site lists its production budget as $18 million dollars—peanuts for Hollywood). Though Darabont is known for making stately, elegant, and slow-moving pictures, cinematographer Ronn Schmidt (The Shield) shot The Mist almost entirely with handheld cameras, using two operators in order to avoid having to shoot a lot of coverage. The result is that The Mist is far and away Darabont's most energetic and fast-paced picture to date.
Its story adheres closely to that of the novella, modernizing a few elements (cell phones didn't exist when King originally composed the tale), merging certain characters in order to ratchet up the drama and emotion, and excising a sex scene that fits the novella's themes but still seems oddly out of place and would definitely have been a momentum killer in the film version. The general flow of the novella's plot and all of the major beats are left intact—including the gut-wrenching emotional elements. But the movie isn't an exact copy of the story. It eschews the novella's ambiguous and highly literary ending for a punch-in-the-gut finale crafted by Darabont himself. I'll give nothing away here, but suffice it to say that The Mist has one of the greatest horror movie endings of all time. I'm serious.
Beneath its monster movie surface, The Mist is about claustrophobia and the effect of fear on the human psyche. Darabont and his fine ensemble cast of stars, seasoned character actors, and regional talent (the movie was shot in Louisiana) perfectly capture the desperation and hysteria in King's novella. The difference between The Mist and most other horror flicks is that when its characters are confronted with terrible things, they panic, puke, go catatonic, lose their minds, weep, or howl. All of it feels realistic (though the events of the film are decidedly not). There's no steely-eyed, square-jawed heroism.
Thomas Jayne is surprisingly good in the movie. I say that not because I think Jayne a poor actor, but because The Mist requires him to play against type. Many of Stephen King's protagonists are stand-ins for the author himself, bookish, ordinary in appearance, and more than a little nerdy. David Drayton is one such character. Jayne transcends his superhero physique and movie star looks, making us believe that he's a regular guy stuck in impossibly difficult and terrifying circumstances and ill-equipped to handle any of it. Marcia Gay Harden is also top-notch, playing a villainous stereotype (essentially a rehash of religious nut Margaret White from King's first novel, Carrie) with as much subtlety and humanity as the part allows. Her Mrs. Carmody is a thoroughly hateful person, but you somehow believe she might really exist. Toby Jones is superb as the surprisingly heroic store manager, Ollie Weeks; Andre Braugher is typically forceful as Drayton's combative neighbor; and recognizable character actors Jeffrey DeMunn, Frances Sternhagen, and William Sadler are as excellent as anyone familiar with their work would expect. The Mist is an ensemble piece, and this ensemble delivers the goods.
I'm happy to report that The Mist lands on Blu-ray in style. The two-disc set offers two separate cuts of the film: the original theatrical version and Darabont's preferred version, which is identical in content to the original but presented in black-and-white. I didn't see the movie in theaters, so the black-and-white cut was the first that I watched. Darabont is right to prefer it. In black-and-white, the movie has a creepier atmosphere without feeling at all like a period piece. The practical and digital effects (all created on a micro-budget) are also helped enormously by the absence of the color. Both cuts are presented in 1080p transfers framed at the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Detail is strong on both versions, but not the sharpest I've seen in a high def format. Colors are accurate on the theatrical cut, though not of the hyper-saturated variety common among many recent films (see, Apocalypto). The black-and-white version offers decent blacks, bright whites, and a wide range of finely delineated grays. Contrast suffers a bit because it wasn't shot on black-and-white stock, but it still looks quite good.
The film's small budget had no detrimental effects on the audio. Presented in TrueHD 5.1, the soundtrack uses the entire soundstage to create a tense atmosphere as well as explosive audio during the terrifying set pieces.
Though the black-and-white version of the movie is presented on the second disc of the set, it's treated better than the theatrical cut. Other than a brief introduction to the alternate cut by Darabont, all of the set's extras are crowded onto Disc One along with the theatrical version of the film. Darabont provides an energetic, friendly, and informative commentary track. There's a collection of deleted scenes (also with optional commentary by Darabont). Finally, there are a half-dozen featurettes, all presented in HD. Together, all of these supplements provide an in-depth look at the production of the film.
I love horror movies. Good ones are rare. A great one comes along once every 10 or 15 years if we're lucky. The Mist is a great one—the best horror flick I've seen in a long, long time.
Don't go out there!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Commentary by Frank Darabont
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