The Mist review
You can tell why Valve was inspired to make Half-Life
The Mist is a 2007 horror/thriller film based on the Stephen King novella of the same name. Directed by Frank Darabont, it is his fourth film at the helm in total, but actually his third adaptation of Stephen King writing, following The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile – two films which were met with huge acclaim and success.
As anyone familiar will know, Stephen King science fiction is extraordinary; regardless of his writing style and opinion aside, he's a frequent collaborator with the 'Blow Your Mind' fund and has an imagination few nightmares can even reflect. This adaptation is no different: Equilibrium disrupted by a sudden and disastrous earth quake, a father, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) head to the local shopping mall with a neighbour, having taken note of a strange mist left in the earthquake's wake. The ground tremors returning, the popular mall is suddenly swamped in the thick coat of mist, one bleeding male managing to escape it into the store. He screams of the horrors outside and, despite clear confusion, fear spreads faster than the mist itself. Gradually coming closer and closer to direct contact with the hidden horrors, the survivors eventually realise the truth – a horde of varying evils await, of scorpion-tailed waist-sized locusts to indescribable, tentacle-covered blurs.
One thing the film does fabulously however, is rather than presenting this as a run-of-the-mill monster flick and focusing on their horrors, it instead tracks the myriad of character types inside of the store, how they progressively react and attempt to survive. There's a zealous Catholic, a couple of shallow southerners, a deceitful soldier trio and even a shopping assistant underdog that proves an admirable hero. Maybe a little cliché, but these are just my attempts at characterising them; more importantly, they each show individual character traits that mould how the film continues. In desperation, many of the survivors – such as the mentioned southern mechanics – turn to the continuous and intrusive preacher as a messenger of God; as she recites the actions of God, they coincide with similar occurrences upon the mall, from locusts to an individual death as a sacrifice, and her religious teachings begin to seem more and more likely. While this alliance builds over time, a group of a few stronger-minder residents remain independent of these beliefs and further their attempts to protect the safety and provide for the mall, going as far as to venture out into the mist for supplies. Ultimately, this group, led by David Drayton, begin to realise their biggest threat may not be the mist at all, but rather the minds of those who remain secluded in the store.
Throughout the film, Darabont is extremely restrictive regarding the creatures; besides the locust-esque bugs, we only ever see a tentacle or a shadow in the mist, or so on. Instead, he exposes how extreme emotions dictate our actions. In a way, it is an attack on human nature; placing on display the type of terrors and wrongs we can commit in our own need. Toby Jones as Ollie Weeks, the shopping assistant, remarkably portrays the character's strength despite overwhelming factors going against him, conveying not only the blind heroism you'd expect but even his own guilt and distress at what survival forces him to do. Marcia Gay Harden, as Mrs. Carmody, the fanatical religious female, too gives a great performance, from her total submission and pleads to God, to her exponential climb in power. The film features an ensemble cast, otherwise including the likes of Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Frances Sternhagen, and Sam Witwer, and each of these performers do their characters much justice, portraying how frail and temperamental our humanity is when pressured by factors outside of our control. Furthermore, they all represent an ongoing change, with no single character holding the same arrogance or even dignity they might have started the film with. The only case I initially found underwhelmed in was with the main protagonist, David, not only in Thomas Jane's acting but even the character's seemingly perfect design. This eventually gets flipped on its head though, and it becomes clear every white knight can be broken.
One of the few flaws the film falls back on is its CGI, at least in some scenarios. With our first appearance of one of the monsters – a shot of several tentacles – it's easy to suddenly declare you're watching a b-movie and you hadn't even realised. As it reels its way back, forth and over a character's body, the immersion the film had up to that point is almost lost completely if not the terror of the scene; it's hard to believe any of what you watch unless its priority is the character. This could make you wonder if the secrecy of the monsters is out of choice for story-telling purposes or just because they literally are monstrosities, but it seems the novella captures as little of them too. You can wipe your brow though – beside the locusts, which don't look necessarily too bad and at which of the point of the film you won't be distracted too much, – you're never really treated so poorly again as the film shifts away from the concept of the mist more significantly.
As far as aesthetics go on the whole, though, you'll forgive Darabont quite quickly. Some of the shots are absolute stunners – why so many of them are in the first half-an-hour is beyond me, but even until the end of the film some of the cinematography is beautiful, imprinted in my mind one shot of a collapsed tree on David's shed. It's one of those shots I'm prepared to turn on my controller, bring up the menu and select pause for – and it's not the only one. While there's only a limited selection of blazers like that, the film still remains pretty pretty otherwise.
Even if you're a fan of Frank Darabont, it's hard to really argue if you'd necessarily enjoy The Mist. Already a huge fan of his previous Stephen King work, I'd certainly say a lot of his talent is reflected here too: like said before, the cinematography is as good as any of his previous best at times, and I'm sure agreement on his storytelling is unanimous – it's what makes this film so special. It seems like a project his heart was certainly in too: it was the first Stephen King film he actually wanted to make, and wrote the script as well. King himself even praised Darabont for the choices he made in adapting the novella, as he completely re-wrote the ending to the point where King declared it considerably darker and a risky move as far as securing interest would end up. Having not read the novella but having read on its ending, I'd easily say it was a great move by Darabont; I personally found it slightly predictable but it's a great direction of the plot, especially with the unsatisfying resolution the novella provides. It's his talent with narrative that really makes you feel the film's ending, emphasising every final second it draws out. It has an impact.
Looking back on this review, without a doubt it seems very praiseworthy. I went from a sceptic to a huge fan from start to finish, and I'm sure this would be mirrored in other viewers too. It might be the case, however, that you need to view the film from the same angle I did: with no expectation but a great interest. Who wouldn't be interested in the primary inspiration for arguably the greatest game series of all time, Half-Life? It's certainly not a perfect film, or a masterpiece, despite how I might seem. It's a good, maybe great film, certainly – but suggesting better than that would be folly. The writing is nothing amazing, there's a lot of filler characters outside of the ensemble cast and where the book would have room to elaborate on concepts or developments, the film's limited time means some ideas are quickly abandoned or left quite abstract. Nevertheless, it's pretty, it's catching, pretty thrilling at points, and had me immersed quite quickly; I never felt myself getting bored or distracted, despite time creeping into the early morning.
Would I recommend it? Without a doubt, just don't expect a ground-breaker. Maybe give it a rental if you're unsure, I'm not clear as to how soon I'll be rewatching it.
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