FILM REVIEW: The Mist 

Monsters Within: The Mist does horror right

The Mist
Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Andre Braugher, Laurie Holden
Directed by Frank Darabont
Rated R

Frank Darabont's adaptations of Stephen King's writings (e.g., The Shawshank Redemption) are not just some of the best film adaptations of the writer's work but some of the best films, period.

So I don't think it's too outrageous — or too surprising — to say that The Mist, which Darabont wrote and directed from a King novella, is not only one of the best movies of 2007, it's one of the best horror movies ever made.

Period.

Look: B movies went A a long time ago, even before the real world turned into its own kind of science-fiction nightmare of drowned cities and kamikaze terrorists. So isn't natural disaster the perfect springboard for exploring the most sinister aspects of humanity?

I should say there are creatures here with teeth of both the metaphoric and literal kind. But they're just animals doing what animals do. The real monsters of The Mist are the people, and how people give in to fear and give up hope at the very moment when we discard the one and desperately need the other.

This horror is philosophical and humanistic. It examines the nightmares of politics and religion and how they act on individuals. It looks at our propensity to dispense with reason at the drop of a hat — or tentacle, as the case may be.

For all its fantastical elements, this is as grounded and immediate and real as movies get. This is "horror" the way that Rod Serling told it ­— think the creepy societal breakdown of "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," and you've got it.

The natural disaster is an ordinary one: A gusty storm knocks down trees and brings down power lines in one of those outwardly charming, secretly insidious Stephen King small towns. But did it also knock out the power at the local army base, wherein, it is rumored, is housed the remains of a crashed flying saucer and dead alien bodies?

This is the kind of patter that neighbors David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) engage in as they drive into town to pick up supplies and groceries before the shelves are picked clean. They're all in the supermarket when a thick mist descends, obscuring the view out the windows beyond a few feet. Then a bloodied man runs into the store, screaming about monsters in the fog.

It's quiet inside the store for a while. A couple of dozen people are trapped by their uncertainty, but haven't yet given in to panic. That starts to happen when no rescue comes. Panic sets in full-bore when other, more deadly, things begin to occur. Much of this is what you'd expect from a horror movie — those things with the tentacles are vicious buggers. But there's something that's even more terrifying here: the collapse of a civil, ordered society.

Tribes start to form in the supermarket. People drift toward either David and his calm logic or Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a vocal proponent of the hellfire-and-brimstone of Biblical literalism. She believes this is a sign of Armageddon, and boy, is God pissed!

There's a shivering rise and fall to The Mist, in how it scares the hell out of you and then lets you relax with a tension-relieving laugh or two ­— though the film never indulges in a snarky joke that would break the satisfyingly grim mood. Then the cycle starts all over again.

If the movie worked purely as that kind of emotional rollercoaster, that would have been enough. But it also offers finely drawn portraits rarely seen in movies of this kind. Characters express a believable masculinity that's not about bombast or machismo. It's about building up courage in the face of fear and a refusing to descend into easy animality. This is the case, not just with the obvious hero, David, but also in the supermarket manager played by Toby Jones. And women, too. A customer played by Laurie Holden is strong and capable and genuine. So let's call it not just masculine but human courage.


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