The Greatest Movies Of The 21st Century: Where Was… The Mist?

The Mist

by Alex Godfrey |
Published on

This month, Empire is celebrating the 100 Greatest Movies Of The 21st Century so far – a list voted for by critics and readers alike. In the ‘Where Was…’ series, Empire writers look at the films that somehow missed the cut. Here’s Alex Godfrey, making the case for The Mist.

With The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, Frank Darabont had already nailed Stephen King’s humanity and heart dead-on. With The Mist, though, Darabont’s adaptation of King’s 1980 novella, he then took on the horror, doubling down on what was in the book and, with his own ending, going full nihilistic. Nothing – nothing – is as bleak as the final minutes of Frank Darabont’s The Mist. Even King was knocked out by it. “It is the most shocking ending ever,” he said at the time, “and there should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last five minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead.” As such, I won’t be going into details here. Suffice it to say, this is no hyperbole from King. All of The Mist is great, but that ending is Darabont’s ace in the hole. It never leaves you.

The Mist is a thrill from top to bottom. This is Lord Of The Flies in a supermarket, the smalltown folk taking refuge as the mysterious mist descends and the monsters arrive. Sects form at once. The believers. The non-believers. The protectors. The accusers. Historic grievances come to the boil soon enough. Worst – but most delicious – of all is Marcia Gay Harden’s terrifying, God-fearing zealot Mrs Carmody, who all too easily starts a sizeable cult in the food aisles. At the time, The Mist was a frightening parable about our absolute mess of a species, all too ready to turn on each other. But watching it now, in a world that in the past few years has become viciously, acutely divisive, it doesn’t seem like parable at all. It’s just the way of things. How overtly tribal we’ve become since then. How swiftly we get whipped up. How quickly civilisation crumbles. The Mist is human Twitter. It takes your breath away, the frustration of it all. The hopelessness of… well, us.

The Mist

“What are we afraid of, as humans? Chaos. The outsider. We’re afraid of change”, King told The Paris Review in 2006. “I once wrote a short novel called ‘The Mist.’ It’s about this mist that rolls in and covers a town, and the story follows a number of people who are trapped in a supermarket. There’s a woman in the checkout line who’s got this box of mushrooms. When she walks to the window to see the mist coming in, the manager takes them from her. And she tells him, “Give me back my mushies.” We’re terrified of disruption. We’re afraid that somebody’s going to steal our mushrooms in the checkout line.” Aren’t we just.

The Mist was a genuine passion project for Darabont, who had wanted to adapt it ever since the novella was published, and you feel that passion in every frame. If the film feels like a throwback, a bit of a ‘50s b-movie, it’s supposed to. Darabont’s dream to shoot it in black and white was nixed by a studio with commercial concerns, but he eventually got his way with the Blu-ray, and it’s a blast in monochrome, moodier and scarier (and it takes the edge off some of the less sophisticated CGI). The Mist is extremely classy pulp, so fantastically entertaining and affecting. Everything you could want from a film is here.

But then, that ending. As David Drayton (Thomas Jane, excellent throughout) and his gang – the remaining semblance of sanity – venture out into the mist, Darabont blasts out Dead Can Dance’s ‘The Host of Seraphim’, a song that sounds as if it’s in awe of God, a song that seems like it was written specifically for the utter majesty of this sequence – the perfect song for the end times, and an absolutely sublime bit of soundtracking. And what Darabont does next is so beautifully sadistic – so utterly cruel – that you’re left in tatters. It is the most shocking cosmic joke. And it’s what makes the film a horror classic. Because it is truly as horrific as it gets. It leaves you with only one question: What the hell is wrong with Frank Darabont?

Maybe this is why The Mist didn’t make The List. It’s too downbeat for you all. You can’t handle it.

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