“Is that the Shawshank Redemption?“
With the recent successes of Todd Haynes’s beautiful, confounding I’m Not There, the Coen Brothers’ pitch-perfect genre excursion No Country for Old Men, Noah Baumbach’s hateful, yet also sneakily great Margot at the Wedding, and Frank Darabont’s hokey, fun, and surprisingly weighty The Mist, American cinema’s having a pretty solid fall. If advance word on There Will Be Blood is to be believed, all of these films might be handily eclipsed come Christmas time.
“Frank Darabont?” you wonder. Surprisingly, yes—the man may be a simpleton, but at least he’s a filmmaker, which separates him out from the vast hordes of those who simply make movies (Brett Ratner, Tom Shadyac, et al.). I can’t make truly grand claims for The Mist, hobbled as it is by some terrible CG effects, a somewhat over baked script, and under-considered politics, but on the whole, it’s successful as mildly thought-provoking entertainment with an unexpected gut punch of an ending. If a cinema’s only as strong as its weakest links, please let all the faceless scary movies be at least as good as The Mist.
Like 1408, this year’s other solid Stephen King adaptation, The Mist works to remove horror from its recent, needless emphasis on torture and the violent extreme. King’s terror has always been more about the demons within anyway, an almost refreshingly quaint idea in the aftermath of Rob Zombie and Eli Roth (though, to his credit, Zombie’s excessive because his firm allegiance to a certain strand of the genre requires nothing less, Roth’s merely a sicko who cowardly claims his illness reflects that of the world around him). So, of course the physical mist that descends upon a small town in The Mist is less important for what it contains than for what it reveals in the small parcel of townsfolk trapped and afraid inside a local supermarket.
Metaphor for the great unknown that is terrorism and how this threat has sent panicked ripples through our nation’s fabric? Sure, I’ll buy it. But The Mist is more successful in its moments of immediate physical confrontation—captured by two roving cameras, the big set pieces within the grocery store have the feel of theatre (off Broadway, of course), and are neatly edited to build to maximum effect. And if the film’s stabs at CG aren’t particularly believable, the physical creature work is generally inventive and fun.
Then, finally, there’s The Mist’s ending. No spoilers here, but you’ll be surprised at how pleasurably bitter the taste it leaves is. Somewhere in the midst of the final crane upwards over the devastation you’ll realize how skillful the cast of familiar no-names has been in selling us the film’s dread. This may be a minor goal for this time of year, but its achievement is nothing to sneeze at.