Thursday, November 29, 2007
My mother, who was a young girl during World War II, is still haunted by something her father said to her during those years. In a boomerang attempt to silence any worries she might have, her father/my grandfather promised that if the Nazis ever set foot on U.S. shores, he would shoot her himself before the Nazis ever had a chance to capture her. Some comfort, but the lesson she learned lasted a lifetime: Fear the monsters, but also beware the dark impulses the monsters provoke.
Horror resides both without and within. That’s the message of director Frank Darabont’s The Mist. Yes, it’s a horror film with a message. The Mist has extended passages that pause to preach, to demonstrate the dark impulses of irrationality, magical thinking, and mob mentality. Sadly, these interludes only take away from the magnificent moments in which the stunningly crafted beasties in the mist (credit visual-effects supervisor Everett Burrell and creature design and make-up-effects artist Greg Nicotero) come out to prey.
Darabont has made an old-fashioned scary movie that uses a B-name movie cast (minus Harden) as set-piece fodder: victims and antagonists of the film’s menacing creepy-crawlies. And, man alive! The Mist’s grossly tentacled who-knows-what and giant flying-insect thingees are as shuddersome as they come.
The story puts a collection of the inhabitants of a small Maine town in the local Food House supermarket, where at least half the film’s action takes place. They are there stocking up on supplies after an overnight storm knocked out windows and phone service and blew in an ominous mist. Gradually, after a fatal course of trial and error, the gathered collective concludes “there’s something in the mist.” Nobody bothers to quiz the three servicemen in their midst from the nearby military base, whose mission was always the subject of local speculation. Among the townspeople are movie-poster artist and family man David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son, Billy (Nathan Gamble); checkout manager Ollie (Toby Jones, who played Truman Capote in the Capote film that didn’t star Philip Seymour Hoffman); a young new schoolteacher (Laurie Holden); an older schoolmarm (Frances Sternhagen); libidinous Sally (Alexa Davalos) – guess what happens to her – and crazy church lady Mrs. Carmody (Marcia GayHarden), whose sermons about hellfire and damnation grow in merit as the crowd grows more frightened by the day. Director Darabont, who also scripted this film from a Stephen King novella (much like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), maintains King’s focus on the monster that is the doomsday evangelical, who holds our sins to blame for the divine’s retribution. Unlike King, Darabont ends this story with a dropkick to the cerebellum, a change from the original that shocks the viewer and leaves little doubt that Darabont thinks we’re all headed to hell in a handbasket. To paraphrase the song, salvation’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Sin will endure – along with those giant bugs.
THE MIST ( 3 )
Directed by Frank Darabont • Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones and Alexa Davalos • R, 127 min • At the Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Osio Cinemas.