A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 495 – The Mist

The Mist – July 8th, 2011

Horror is not my genre-of-choice, usually. It tends to make me tense and it’s not really where my interests lie. But for some bizarre reason I do like a fair deal of Stephen King’s books. Not all of them, but enough. And top on my list of King works I enjoy are the Dark Tower books. Now, this may seem unrelated, but it’s not. Because when we meet out main character, David, here, he’s painting a poster for one of them, with an easily-identifiable Roland Deschain front and center. So right from the outset, this movie had way more of my attention than I had expected it would get when we put it in.

I only vaguely remembered this movie from ads when it came out. At the time I hadn’t realized it was based on a King novella and dismissed it as a gimmicky fright fest. But tonight, learning that it was based on King and adapted for the screen by Frank Darabont (also responsible for The Shawshank Redemption), well, that gave me pause. And watching it I found myself thinking about some other works I’m more familiar with. Given how King connected so many of his works together by the time he finished the Dark Tower books, I don’t find it hard to connect this one too. It instantly makes the movie more interesting to me as it becomes part of a much larger universe and makes the mist and the creatures within it more recognizable.

The story here follows David and his son, Billy, after a huge storm knocks out the power in their small town in Maine. Along with a neighbor, David and Billy head into town for supplies. Soon after they do an eerie bank of mist rolls into town, blanketing everything and making it impossible to see more than a couple of feet away. David, Billy, the neighbor (Brent – and I’ll come back to him) and a number of other assorted townspeople find themselves trapped inside the local grocery store, unable to even see their cars in the parking lot. Now, I live in the Northeast, on the coast and half of my drive home is on a road along a beach. I’ve driven in heavy fog and mist coming in off the water. So I instantly understood the townspeople’s reluctance to simply go find their cars and leave. Driving in that sort of visibility (or lack thereof) is terrifying anyhow. So they’re all reticent to leave, but the mist doesn’t lift or dissipate and eventually they decide they’ll just have to go. Until a man rushes in, warning them not to go out there because there are things in the mist and they’ll get you.

And thus we have the actual horror part of the movie. The people inside aren’t sure what to make of the whole monsters outside thing, and many of them don’t believe it. David hears a strange sound in the back room of the supermarket, then sees the loading bay door buckle, but no one believes him until a couple of other men come in to help work on the backup generator and one of them ends up yanked out of the building by spiked tentacles. This is our first real look at the monsters that provide the external threat to our heroes and we don’t even get to see the whole thing. And that, right there, is something this movie does right. The full extent of the infestation isn’t revealed right then and there, just tentacles. Which is a great way to build up the tension. I mean, soon enough we’ll see more, but for now the tension lies squarely on a few people knowing that something horrible is out there and not being able to convince the rest.

Really, there are two points of tension here. One is the threats outside of the market. The other is human nature. Because what the people inside the supermarket do is immediately fracture into groups. First they have the group of people who believe that going outside is dangerous, versus the group of people who think it’s ridiculous and David and the others are either delusional or lying. The leader of the latter group is Brent, David’s neighbor. And here is my first issue with the movie. There’s a fair deal of set-up for Brent and David being at odds and then seeming to overcome their issues enough to get along during this emergency. There’s talk of a lawsuit/property dispute between them in the past and it’s made out to be a big thing for the two of them. And then Brent takes his group out into the parking lot and we never see them again. A man who went with them to try and retrieve his shotgun from his truck ends up coming back as a torsoless set of legs, so it’s implied that they’re dead. Brent makes a lot of fuss about how clearly David and the other locals are having him on and how he’d thought that he and David were getting along now but apparently he was wrong and then… Nothing. He’s built up from the beginning to be an antagonist but he’s just a diversion. Which is incredibly frustrating. I’m also giving this movie’s casting director the side-eye for the unfortunate implications of having the only person of color with a major speaking role (Andre Braugher as Brent) as the antagonist and one who’s bumped off early on.

The real internal antagonist ends up being a religious fanatic named Mrs. Carmody. She’s played by Marcia Gay Harden and given what she’s got to work with I think she does a good job. The trouble here is that once monsters start smacking into the windows of the store and people start dying, she starts preaching. And in less than a day she manages to convert most of the people in the store to her rambling account of this being the end of days as described in the Bible. Now, I get that the point here is that people will panic in an emergency and in such a bizarre and terrifying situation as this they might well lose any sense of reason they had. Mrs. Carmody comes off as bitter and nasty and thoroughly delusional right from the start and it’s stated that she’s known for not being trustworthy. But soon she has everyone bent to her will but David and his couple of loyal friends. And it seems to happen really fast. My hands-down-favorite character, supermarket assistant manager Ollie, does get a good line about how if you put more than two people in a room together for too long they’ll look for ways to kill each other, which is why we created politics and religion. But here we only get the religion, and we get it in heavy doses right from the start.

Pretty soon Carmody is inciting her followers to form a mob and “sacrifice” people to appease the monsters and earn God’s favor (or something like that). She focuses on David’s son, Billy, and a schoolteacher named Amanda, telling her followers to grab them. If this had taken a couple more days I’d have found it slightly more realistic. Mobs form fast, but this wasn’t a mob and wouldn’t have been without Carmody and I just find it difficult to believe that this size group would all go in her direction so quickly. But they do, so our heroes have to escape. And this is why it had to happen so fast. To establish the danger from outside, the monsters have to be terrifying and pose a threat to anyone leaving. But if they’re that threatening, it won’t take long for them to get inside. Which means the threat from inside needs to form quickly as well to force the heroes out but keep them small and vulnerable. I get the structure, I just wish it was built a little bit sturdier.

Overall, really my biggest issue with this movie is that I don’t know if all the characters serve the movie well. We meet a number of different people, since it’s a fairly good-sized group in the market when the mist comes in, but we barely have time to learn their names (or not, in some cases) and maybe a factoid or two about their lives before they’re dead. The whole Brent storyline is indicative of this. There’s a bit with a cashier and her high school sweetheart, and couple of mechanics, and a biker and I feel like I’m supposed to care more about these people than I get any time to. I suspect this has to do with the original story being first person? I could be wrong, as I haven’t read the story, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was right. What I do like is the creatures out in the mist and how they remind me of the illustrations from the third Dark Tower book, The Waste Lands. That and the Dark Tower reference at the beginning make the whole movie feel like it’s a piece of that universe and even if I didn’t enjoy the movie anyhow, it would be that much more enjoyable to me on that merit.

July 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Mist

July 8, 2011

The Mist

This was one of those “what on Earth was I thinking” purchases I made while working at Blockbuster. I really had no intention of buying this movie. I’m not a fan of horror films, really. It’s never been my preferred genre. I enjoy the stories of Stephern King, but movies based on them are hit and miss. Of course this movie is from Frank Darabont, the director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, who has made a career out of doing spectacular adaptations of Stephen King. At the time that I bought this, though, I didn’t know that. I had read the story many years ago and it didn’t particularly make me want to watch a movie based on it. You know what finally made me decide to buy it (after being exposed to the preview for a couple months?) It was the tentacles. There was a shot in the preview that had Cthuloid tentacles descending from the clouds, and because I’m not quite right in the head this image made me want to own the entire movie. But I didn’t watch it until today.

I have to admit that I’m glad Darabont keeps going back to Stephen King, because he’s clearly got a knack for King’s work. King is all about putting regular people in dire circumstances and letting them be human. In this particular case the dire circumstances involve people trapped in a grocery store when an unnatural mist rolls down out of the mountains above Castle Rock after a thunder storm. Professional painter David Drayton goes to the store to stock up on supplies after the storm with his son and his litigious neighbour but while they’re there the mist rolls in. At first, of course, it looks like it’s just a strange weather pattern, but soon it becomes clear that there are “things” in the mist. Things that will grab people and tear them apart.

The film, like the story it’s based on, is more about the psychological tension of people trapped in close quarters with each other while something horrific is going on. At first there are skeptics, like David’s neighbour, who refuse to believe that there’s anything supernatural going on. They don’t last long. Then there is the crazy religious fanatic Mrs. Carmody who believes that the mist is the realization of the book of Revelations and that the beasts in it are God’s just vengeance for the hubris of humankind. Almost worse than the creatures outside are the evils brought forth in the simple humans trapped in the store. In some people the crisis brings out the best, such as with bag-boy Ollie Weeks who repeatedly proves himself to be an unexpected hero and our protagonist David who is the voice of reason and finds himself taking command when nobody else will. Many other people, however, become spiteful, frightened, useless or dangerous.

What I found myself especially enjoying about the movie was the deft way that Darabont built the tension and maintained it. The real terror in this movie comes mostly from the fact that we almost never see the beasts in the mist unobscured. They are terrifying nightmare fodder that capture and consume anyone foolhardy enough to venture outside, but we mostly see the results of their actions rather than the creatures themselves. This makes it all the more dreadful when eventually a small group do have to venture outside in search of medicine and possibly survivors at the pharmacy next door. We get to see some of the smaller beasts – giant flying scorpion bugs and four-winged lizard predators as well as terrifying spider things that spit acidic webs – but the most deadly things are just shapes in the fog, ill defined and all the more frightening because of it.

Once you’re done watching the movie you realize that everything is build up to the inevitable conclusion. Every dreadful night-time encounter or spate of in-fighting among the survivors is a part of a larger picture that’s being painted. I have to say that I think I’ve seen this ending done before in other horror films. I haven’t seen it done so well. Darabont spends the whole film creating a state of mind – an overwhelming sense of dread – so that he can sell the events of the conclusion, and he does it perfectly.

There is much that I enjoyed about this movie. I loved the creature design and the effects work. The things in the mist are fantastic nightmare fodder and the glimpses you get of them, particularly near the conclusion, make it clear that they are highly developed, almost majestic killing machines. The acting throughout the movie is superb. After the dreadful Punnisher movie he did I didn’t have high hopes for Thomas Jane as our protagonist David. As Mrs. Carmody Marcia Gay Hardon is almost as horrifying as the creatures outside – she completely sells this woman who has felt under appreciated and put upon for her entire life but who now sees these horrific events as her vindication. Every one of the characters presented is well fleshed out with understandable motivations for their actions, so even the people who are the most despicable are still terrifyingly human.

Again: I am not a fan of horror movies in general. I don’t necessarily think it’s a fun time to be terrified. This movie, though, has instantly leaped to near the top of my list of favorite horror films. I don’t know if it does anything original with the common tropes of people trapped during an apocalyptic event (which I associate mostly with zombie movies) but it does everything so very well that I don’t mind that I feel like I’ve seem most of this before. Indeed as bleak and unsettling as the movie is there are parts of it that I kind of want to watch again. It must be that same thing in me that loves seeing the aliens winning in the new War of the Worlds remake: I have a soft spot for supernatural Armageddon tales.

July 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment