Frank Darabont and Stephen King are a combination that work as well as salt and vinegar. Rum and coke. Lucas and Spielberg... well, maybe not so much the last one. The Shawshank Redemption, Darabont’s break out, and his second King adaptation is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. After Shawshank came The Green Mile, another success. And now, we have The Mist, an adaptation of a King short horror story. While the film was a modest success in the US, it’s release on this side of the water was delayed until now. Why? It’s a mystery.
The Mist takes place, as with most of King’s stories in the small Maine town of Castle Rock. David Drayton takes his son to the local shops to gather supplies after their house was damaged in a storm. While in the shop, a mist descends on the town, engulfing all the buildings. But this is no ordinary mist. There’s something lurking in the mist that will kill anyone unlucky enough to get caught up in it. But the mist isn’t the only thing that threatens David, his son, and the rest of the townspeople in the shop. The cabin fever setting in in the shop divides the people into factions. One faction staying as rational as possible, the second faction following the preaching of an increasingly fanatical and dangerous bible-bashing Christian fundamentalist.
There are so many films that have been adapted from Stephen King books, that the poor outweighs the good. While films like The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are great, there’s also tosh like Needful Things, The Lawnmower Man and Dreamcatcher. So whenever a Stephen King book is adapted, approaching the film should be done with great trepidation. However, not all Stephen King books are adapted by Frank Darabont. And in the hands of this director, you’re in for something special. The Mist is essentially a monster movie. There are creatures in the mist and they’re nasty. Very nasty. But what pushes The Mist ahead of the average monster movie is what goes on inside the shop that everyone is stuck in.
While it’s clear that being in the mist is fatal, the atmosphere in the shop turns increasingly dangerous as fear leads to paranoia and the townspeople start devolving in their ethics. Leading the paranoia is the local crazy religious fundamentalist. She’s convinced she’s a conduit to God and when people start becoming desperate, they turn to her for guidance. But her guidance is incredibly dangerous and turns a bad situation worse. Darabont manages to keep the two sides of the story perfectly balanced. While you’re terrified of what’s outside (and there are a few jump-scares, essential horror movie staples), the tension builds to an almost uncomfortable atmosphere inside. With these two sides of the story, the pacing of the film never lets up, and the running time of two hours twenty minutes never seems long.
Because the film works so well as a character piece as well as a horror movie, the performances need to be spot on. And once again, Darabont succeeds in getting the best from his central cast. Thomas Jane plays David Drayton, the story’s main protagonist. Drayton’s the everyman of the film. All he cares about is protecting his son, but when the chips are down, he’s got the drive to act. Jane’s performance is excellent, with a particularly devastating piece of acting that requires me to go into detail I’m going to skip due to spoilers I want to avoid. The standout performance, however, is from Marcia Gay Harden who plays the Christian fundamentalist, Mrs. Carmody. Mrs. Carmody is the kind of fire-and-brimstone preacher who sees all disasters as the wrath of a vengeful God. While her convictions are solid, and her intentions, while crazy, are good in her eyes, she becomes the villain as she allows her delusions take hold and she begins to gain power. Harden creates in Mrs. Carmody a villain you love to hate. The rest of the cast is made up from Darabont regulars in Laurie Holden, William Sadler, and Jeffrey DeMunn and character actors such as Toby Jones and Andre Braugher. And while each of them is excellent, with characters that deserve as much attention, I’d be going on all day.
It’s a credit to Darabont’s script that the characters are so fully realised. It’s the relationships between the many characters that elevate this film above the average horror movie. In fact, I can say quite confidently that The Mist is one of the finest horror films I have seen in a long, long time. The monster moments are horrific and suitable for the genre and the character moments are good enough for any drama. The origin of the mist itself is kept as ambiguous as possible which keeps the audience uncomfortably mystified, just like the townspeople. And with an ending that is astonishing in it’s willingness not to give the audience any sense of comfort in closure, Darabont’s film is as close to the perfect horror film as I’ve seen any film come. It’s almost impossible to lavish enough praise on The Mist. It’s surprising how good it is. But when Stephen King’s stories are adapted well, they make for excellent viewing. The Mist is up with The Sawshank Redemption and Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining as the best of King’s stories on screen. The Mist is an astoundingly well made movie. And one for the best of ’08 list.