The Mist (2007)
The supernatural horror movie “The Mist” was written and directed by three time Oscar nominee “Frank Darabont” in November, 2007. Darabont is famously known for creating “The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile” , and “The Majestic”; all of which are great examples of themes with strong affirmations of humanity’s basic goodness. The Mist, however, is the polar opposite of that, which explores a more pessimistic view of human nature.
The film’s narrative is based on a Stephen King novella called “The Mist”, which was first written as part of a horror anthology in 1980 called “The Dark Forces”, before being published as a stand-alone book in October 2007 to coincide with Darabont’s cinematic release of the story. Another adaptation could perhaps be found in James Herbert’s horror novel “The Fog”, which was published five years prior to King’s novel in 1975. Herbert’s story contains a similar plot line to that of Stephen King’s narrative and likewise focuses on a violent storm that blows in a heavy mist engulfing a village in sudden terror.
Following the devastating thunderstorm that blasted through a small village on the coast of Maine, the entire neighborhood was left in a state of chaotic panic, with the only sense of calm provided by a light mist rolling off the mountains in the distance. Just like most of the town, our main protagonist, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), drive cautiously into town to pick up some supplies from the supermarket in case the ferocious storms hits again, taking their very opinionated neighbor, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), with them. David leaves his wife behind to begin clearing up the debris from the previous nights bombardment, which would perhaps turn out to be a deadly mistake, because on the way to the store the three of them notice unusual police and military activity giving them cause for alarm.
When they get to the store, they come across all sorts of odd jobs, town locals and weekend warriors, including Brent Norton, David’s neighbor and the sour attorney who filed a lawsuit against David and lost. Also Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a fanatically unorthodox religious figure and the film’s antagonist. Amanda Dumfries (Laurie Holden), a married teacher who’s husband is away on business becomes the film’s mother figure, especially to Billy. Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones), the assistant manager of the supermarket, who at first seems insignificant and nerdy, soon becomes the mentor and stronghold for David. Jim Grondin (William Sadler), a belligerent and weak-minded mechanic. Irene Reppler (Frances Sternhagen), a third-grade teacher. Ambrose Cornell (Buck Taylor), an elderly man who sides with David’s group. Last, but not least, Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn), who is the first civilian to see signs of danger lurking in the mist as he famously yells with blood streaming from his face, “There’s something in the mist! Something in the mist took John Lee. I could hear him screaming”.
It tremors and shakes, bashes on doors and windows; staying mostly invisible at first, so not to give too much away to the audience. The less Darabont shows to us of what’s out there in the mist, the more frightening the mist becomes, “the things people choose to fear; usually they are unknown and uncontrolled”. Then suddenly out of the mist, an unknown monster with tentacles grabs the ‘bad-boy’ Norm after he volunteers to go outside to fix the store generator; snatching his body and dragging him into the fog. Norm, that’s what you get for refusing to believe David. “What do you think those tentacles are attached to?” asks David. We just don’t know, but they can’t be good.
As well as these unseen monsters with rather dangerous tentacles that eat people in a single bite; insects, shockingly the size of dogs and cats come crashing into the windows of the store and scares the bejesus out of everyone, including us, “Darabont has certainly delivered on the suspense front”. He creates the things nightmares are made of and worse, “giant flying bugs of the ickiest, squirmiest kind, huge clawed tentacles that can reach in and tear away huge chunks of human flesh”.
From the opening scenes of the movie the origin of this strange mist is a mystery to us. Where has this mist come from? Where did the monsters come from? Why are they killing people? These unexplained scenes are perhaps in line with the events that occur in “The Birds”. These are the same questions we found ourselves asking and it’s what perhaps makes the film so terrifying because we ultimately don’t know. It’s this unknown, this uncertainty that takes place within the narratives of The Birds and The Mist that holds us in tension and suspense, forcing the audience to become “confused, ruffled, on the brink of flight”, providing “no answers and no escape”.
All we know is that this small town has become consumed by this mysterious and very sinister shroud of fog. A band of survivors have taken refuge in a grocery store and barricaded themselves in from the demons that roam in the mist. Some very brave, or very stupid souls risk venturing outside to find some means of escape. Some come back but in pieces. Some never come back at all. The rest of the characters remain trapped and helpless, anxiously awaiting their fates.
It’s as though Stephen King decided to throw all of these diverse ingredients into a claustrophobic boiling cauldron to see how they would cope while under extreme adversity. “Do they band together in unflinching patriotism (“United We Stand” style?) or do they cower in fear and turn on each other?”. This is the underlying question that forms the backbone for The Mist.
From this moment on, the film gets split into two different perspectives: one of hope and prosperity, each believing in human kind to come together to form a plan as to how to protect themselves and escape, which is lead by David. The other side is the doomsday apocalypse worshippers, who view these events as retribution from God for the sinful ways of man, which is lead by Mrs Carmody. “It’s death. It’s judgment day. There’s no escape from the wrath of God”, cries Mrs Carmody. This diversion into two separate paths perhaps portrays how human kind can “fragment and deteriorate under pressure, resorting to an every-man-for-himself ethic”, thus creating faith versus fear, a realism versus idealism concept. The Mist seems to thematically revolve around this belief and disbelief of faith. Faith towards humanity, faith in God, and faith in rationality. The characters throughout the narrative experiences changes in these beliefs, some come to stronger beliefs, others lose conviction in their ideals. Interestingly enough, our main protagonist, David, strangely succumbs to his strongly fought morals during the final moments of the film (which we will come back to later).
This conflict of faith creates a very hostile mood inside the supermarket, even to the point of human sacrifice. As if the atmosphere outside the grocery store wasn’t bad enough. Throughout The Mist, there are a few instances where characters completely lose hope that the mist will eventually clear, and that all will be bright again. Therefore, they either willingly or unwillingly offer themselves up as a sacrifice to the gods as some kind of final redeeming act.
This concept reminds me of scenes from Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto”, where in the absence of sun, during a drought, an eclipse, or natural disaster, the Aztecs offered up human sacrifices to their sun god in hope that troubling times will eventually dissipate, “ancient cultures would often worship the Sun as a God and the absence of the sun would often create themes of imprisonment, exile, and death”. The same can be said about many of the characters within The Mist, as they “seem to revert to an earlier, more primitive self in hopes of saving themselves from the creatures outside”, offering themselves up to the forces of the underworld and letting death take control over them. For example, when the two military officers hang themselves in the storeroom, the killing of the third officer in cold-blood, and when Mrs. Carmody allows one of the beasts from the other world to crawl over her body. These characters are all symbols of allowing the forces of death to take over rather than fight and escape.
It’s an interesting insight just to witness how fragile the human psyche is and how easily lead astray people can become as soon as disaster hits; portraying how the film’s society is “utterly failing to rise to the apocalyptic occasion; instead ignoring the voices of reason and falling into disunity and irrationality, and even resorting to human sacrifice”. The grocery store’s assistant manager, Ollie Weeks, confirms this concept for us within The Mist, “the human race is fundamentally insane. If you put two of us into a room together we’re soon gonna start figuring out good reasons to kill one another”. This offers a very gloomy outlook on our civilization and doesn’t fill us with much confidence for the characters eventual fates.
However, the moment we see the monsters in their entirety, that’s when I personally lose interest. In The Mist, the monsters are just a side show to the actual theme, that is, what would you do in the town inhabitants position? How would our civilization cope with this atrocity? Would you bow down and pray for mercy to almighty God, or would you attempt to think rationally and conjure up an escape plan. That is the question. Without that question The Mist could ultimately be just any horror film, where a town gets attacked and a group of townspeople take refuge together, for example “Night Of The Living Dead” or “30 Days Of Night“. As the famous movie reviewer, Roger Ebert says, “all you have to do is choose a new threat and a new place of refuge, and use typecasting and personality traits so we can tell the characters apart”.
The Birds was a terrifying epic because we could easily envisage birds transforming into evil beasts of the air, as some people have genuine fears of birds and can be horrifically real, so our minds make this a genuine threat. Moreover, I believe that’s why people are so scared of great whites sharks now, because of Steven Spielberg’s film “Jaws”. It’s not beyond comprehension that giant sharks could so viciously attack humans like they do in Jaws. Therefore, we can become truly terrified of them, even to the point of us not wanting to swim in warm seas any longer; when factually the chances of you being eaten by a shark is extremely slim. However, we all know monsters with tentacles and flying cat-sized bugs aren’t real and never could be, therefore they could never be truly scary in the same way. This is where I feel The Mist is lacking and becomes a little cliche. By deciding to go with supernatural beasts from another dimension or planet, it takes away the film’s verisimilitude, “a lot of The Mist looks a little cheesy, what with all the CGI beasties”. For me, it dims the effects these monsters are supposed to have on it’s viewer because the giant shadowy creatures just aren’t legitimately frightening. Like what Frank Darabont, “the monsters outside are only the context for the monsters who are your friends and neighbors, who you really have to worry about”.
That being said, the twisted ending all but makes up for this in my opinion. Just to point out, the ending of The Mist is not like the ending of Stephen King’s novella, as a matter of fact, it is the complete opposite. Throughout the film, David Drayton stands firm in his beliefs of survival at all costs, to fight for prosperity and optimism, for him and his son, Billy. However, in the end, David loses his confidence in hope. After David, Billy, Amanda, Irene and Dan make a daring escape from the supermarket into a getaway car, the car runs out of gas and they find themselves stranded in the midst of the mist, with noises of death echoing all around them. The end is nigh, or so they think. They’ve given up all faith in survival. After David managed to salvage the only gun in the entire film, he checks the ammo to find that he only has four bullets remaining. “There’s four left”, David solemnly explains. “But there’s five of us”, replies Dan. “I’ll figure something out”, says David. After all agreeing that is the only way out, he loads the shells into the gun and then suddenly four shots are fired. Leaving David alone in a blood-splattered car. A couple of minutes later after David murdered the only people left in his life, including his only son, the mist begins to slowly recede, revealing men in military uniforms, driving heavy duty tanks and rescue trucks, filled with groups of people who also survived. If David had waited just a few more moments before killing them, they all would of survived the ordeal. What a sledgehammer. Thus, making The Mist not about hope, but “a movie about the danger of hopelessness”. Patience really is a virtue.