Shoppers in a small Maine towns supermarket are trapped by the sudden appearance of an otherworldly mist - and the unspeakable, deadly beasts contained within. Two rival groups quickly form, one favouring escape, the other... expiation.
Traditionally, horror movies have almost acted as the entry-level exam for gifted filmmakers, a way to make their names before graduating to respectable material - just ask Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson. Refreshingly, with The Mist, Frank Darabont has gone the other way. Of course, he started out writing horror flicks, but this is a guy whose directorial career has largely been about conveying hope, joy, and carefully sculpted sentiment. But for his third take on Stephen King, after The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, Darabont has gone back to the well and come up with a tight, tense frightflick with more originality than a thousand Saws.
So, naturally, it failed at the US box office, grossing just over $25 million and only now, eight months later, is it getting a cinematic release here in the UK. It’s well worth your time, but be warned - by movie’s end, your sunny disposition is likely to have clouded over.
As with all the best siege movies, The Mist takes its time setting up its characters and scenario, expertly and economically placing Thomas Jane’s Everyman artist, David Drayton, at the heart of an ensemble of fantastic actors. In fact, it’s nearly half an hour before any Lovecraftian beastie lifts a toothy tentacle in anger.
And like the best siege movies - Rio Bravo, The Thing, Romero’s Dead trilogy - The Mist isn’t really interested about what’s outside, trying to get in, but what’s inside, trying to get out. And by that, of course, we mean the more venal, spiteful, and downright horrifying side of human nature, personified here by Marcia Gay Harden’s religious zealot, Mrs. Carmody, dispensing frenzied rants as she cajoles her ever-growing army of followers toward one goal: blood sacrifice. She’s the true villain of the piece, and while Gay Harden is excellent, at times it’s scarcely believable that someone so demented would recruit so many disciples.
Of course, it might be more credible to anyone following modern politics, a point driven home by Darabont in one scene featuring dialogue so on-the-nose that it might as well come with a flashing subtitle: ‘This is about the Bush administration’. This lack of subtlety occasionally mars The Mist, but for the most part Darabont’s decision to use an immediate handheld style intensifies the drama. Throughout, the movie feels real - even when the monsters break loose.
And boy, do they break loose, in several superb set-pieces including an extended bug attack on the store at nightfall, and a chilling sequence in the pharmacy next door that will make arachnophobics squirm. When it comes to the bigger monsters (including one that would eat the Cloverfield creature for breakfast), the ever-present mist comes in very handy at cloaking some of the deficiencies of low-budget CG.
It’s in these sequences that the true beating B-movie heart of the movie is revealed - a fact driven home by the excruciatingly downbeat ending, possibly the most depressing five minutes of cinema you’ll see all year. Darabont’s triumph here is in wedding such outlandishness to genuine and untrammelled emotion - who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks?
Criminally overlooked in the States, this is one of the best horror movies of the last few years.