- Rated R
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All photos © The Weinstein Co.
Reviewed by David Medsker
ot since Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” has a movie left me so emotionally drained that I could barely speak. “The Mist” is old-school horror at its finest: it is a relentless, brutally intense monster movie that exposes the recent installments to the “Saw” and “Hostel” franchises for the kiddie-ride amusement park silliness that they are. Writer/director Frank Darabont made a name for himself as a brilliant adapter of Stephen King’s dramatic work, but his first foray into horror is nothing short of astonishing. As an added bonus, Darabont cooked up a definitive ending for King’s open-ended novella, and King himself has said that anyone who gives it away should die a slow, painful death. Not wishing to die, all I’ll say about the ending is…wow.
Set in Bridgton, Maine, the movie opens to commercial artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) working on a movie poster during a strange electrical storm (the poster he was painting was for “The Gunslinger,” yuk yuk). The town loses power, and the next morning David, his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) and their neighbor Brent (Andre Braugher) go to town to stock up on supplies at the local supermarket, while military vehicles zoom past them in the opposite direction. While they’re waiting to check out, an unusually thick mist, which David spotted earlier on the lake behind his house, rolls into town, and just ahead of the mist is a man who claims that there are creatures in the mist that are killing people. The manager locks up the store, and those trapped inside soon learn that the man wasn’t kidding; stock boy Norm leaves the store to fix the generator, and is flayed by an unseen beast with “Deep Rising”-type tentacles. Is the mist the result of a long-rumored, top-secret military experiment gone awry, or is it the End of Days that Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a religious zealot, proclaims it to be?
Perhaps the most unsettling thing about “The Mist” is the near complete absence of music. Most horror movies are fraught with cheap boo-scares accompanied by loud shrieks from the string section. “The Mist,” on the other hand, does none of this, even during the incredible scene where one brave townsperson enters the mist with a rope tied around his waist. The scene is screaming for a histrionic score, and composer Mark Isham, God love him, doesn’t give it to us. Instead, he gives us…silence, which makes the scene even creepier. We can only hope that other directors give their composers similar direction in the future. Less is more, even in horror.
The cast is not what you would call name actors – the majority of the characters are of the “Oh yeah, I know that guy/girl” variety, and the rest are relative newcomers – but everyone is impeccably cast. Jane, who has dabbled in King misadventures in the past (ahem, “Dreamcatcher”), finally finds a well-rounded hero role he can make his own, while Harden has a field day with Mrs. Carmody, relishing the character’s inherent craziness while keeping her grounded just enough to make people believe in her. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Darabont regulars (wishy-washy William Sadler was in “The Shawshank Redemption,” school teacher Amanda Dumfries was in “The Majestic”), but the best supporting performance easily belongs to Frances Sternhagen and her tough-as-nails septuagenarian Irene (her name was Hilda in the book), who’s equally skilled with both peas and hair spray.
With any luck, “The Mist” will serve as the official death knell for this whole torture porn nonsense. Plunging the depths of humanity for a cheap thrill is not horror: it’s sociopathy. True horror is trapping someone in a supermarket with a Bible thumper and forcing them to choose between the monster inside the store and the monsters outside the store, and it is that grounding in reality that makes the fantasy part of “The Mist” so effective. An instant classic.
Two-Disc Collector's Edition DVD Review:
The movie may have died a quiet death at the box office (note to Hollywood: never, ever release horror movies on Thanksgiving weekend), but Dimension pulls out all the stops for the DVD release of “The Mist.” Along with a slew of lengthy featurettes that cover the story, the special effects, artist Drew Struzan and the revised bug raid scene, Dimension also includes a black and white version of the film (Frank Darabont’s original preference), complete with intro. Darabont also provides an audio commentary for the theatrical version. Horror fans, rejoice.