A father and young son become stranded in a populated strip mall grocery store in Maine where a deadly mist enshrouds the area as part of a terrible storm. Hidden in the thick fog are gigantic insects and prehistoric creatures that ensnare the store’s inhabitants, gripping them in a fear that brings out their worst and best qualities.
Marcia Gay Harden is magnificent as a Christian fanatic, and Thomas Jane gives the best performance of his career in a low-budget, retro horror movie that is equal parts satire, suspense, and surprise. Stephen King’s The Mist is a reminder of what a really great horror movie is all about.
Director Frank Darabont, whose adaptations of Stephen King stories (The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) carry strong stamps of approval, is so in tune with King’s sense of timing, nuance and character development that it feels like he’s getting away way with something from the outset.
First, we get a charge of inside humor when the opening scene reveals family guy David Drayton (Jane) painting movie poster artwork that is as cheesy as it is enticing. The fierce storm outside has no patience for David’s pastime, and lets him know it by sending a giant tree through the room’s large picture window.
The gale’s full devastation comes painfully clear in the morning light. The lakeside house needs attention, and the family’s boathouse is completely destroyed. There’s some discussion of the loss of the tree that his grandfather planted, and we instantly know that David is the kind of person we would all like to think we are—well intentioned and balanced. It’s an empathy that will steadily increase during the film’s onslaught of physical danger and cult-mentality.
David and his nine-year-old son Billy (Nathan Gamble) give their disagreeable neighbor (Andre Braugher) a ride to the town market to pick up supplies before the thick mist descends. But the dense vapor is too quick. A visit to the grocery store’s loading dock gives David and a few local men a sample of what the fog hides when giant barbed tentacles attack them before they can shut the roll-up door. Cynicism, fear and stupidity collide in a volatile mix as the group of store-trapped citizens struggle to make sense of the bizarre events escalating around them.
Darabont could never have gotten funding from a Hollywood studio to make the movie with the shock ending that it has, so he bucked the system. He made the film for “17 and change,” a dauntingly small budget that dictated a muscular approach to the material.
Audiences will take away different measures of meaning from King’s deeply satirical story and its military-inflected dimension. No matter how civilized we may think we are, human tendencies for dealing with the unknown under stressful conditions—whether from outside invaders or from the people next to us—is remarkably predictable. But what happens inside the mind of an individual? That’s something else entirely. MTW