Saturday, April 25, 2009

THE MIST

by Tobias
> view trailer

Good American horror films can be categorized into three basic time periods for me: before and after Vietnam and before and after Sept.11. 2001 is a year that transmogrified the United States' concept of horror forever. Scare flicks ranging from great (THE HOST) to good (this movie) to okay (CLOVERFIELD) to not so good (STAY ALIVE), display fully how genre cinema can tap into the international community's collective anxieties. I don't think there is a much more expressive canvas for climates of fear and paranoia than film. And this movie, for all its flaws, could have only been made at this somewhat uneasy time. In a way, this movie is Darabont's (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) playfully vicious response to accusations that he's only capable of delivering Capra-corn with outlandishly positive endings. THE MIST is a creepy and campy good ol' fashioned B-horror romp. But at it's core, and the Stephen King story from which it's adapted, is a very pessimistic view of humanity. Where you could describe Darabont's THE MAJESTIC (2001) as Americana, you can call the doomsday obssessed THE MIST anti-Americana. Although King wrote the short in 1980, the themes and ideas are just as universal today. If not more. The story revolves around a familiar apocalyptic scenario that we have all seen in many other classic horror flicks; there's some bizarre event that's causing people to act-the-fool, said people become huddled in a confined space together, etc. Carpenter's THE THING (1982) and George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) immediately come to mind. Like those two storytellers, King/Darabont use the set-up as a microcosm of contemporary society, and how fear of the unknown can bring the worst out of people in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic event. Be it; Cuban Missile crisis, Vietnam, Columbine, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, whatever. After a bizarre electrical storm, Dave Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son head to their local grocery store to gather supplies. Not long after they arrive, an eerie emergency siren blares through the town and sounds like a 50's era nuclear bomb warning; the sound you might hear in the event of a tornado or terrorist attack. A large fog bank then descends onto the town and engulfs it in a supernatural and metaphorical "mist". A frightened senior citizen soon comes limping out of it exclaiming that "there's something in the mist!" (in true B-horror spirit). Shortly after this point the movie heads into Rod Serling territory when the true nature of the mist is revealed. Lovercratfian territory even. Small footnote: the Japanese designers of the first SILENT HILL videogame (one of my favourites) have admitted that this King story was a core influence for the game's disturbing setting and ominous dread. Come to think of it, I wish Frank Darabont had been the filmmaker chosen to adapt that game to the screen instead of Christoph Gans, the stylist I feel butchered it. After a variety of handsome creatures, well suited for a 1950's drive-in movie, are found lurking in the fog, the true horror of the film commences when the human characters start to turn on each other when communications with the outside world collapse. This set-up is really effective and eerie. Most of Darabont's execution is good as well. Obviously never great, but a reliably entertaining adaptation of light-weight schlock. Something of a valentine to classic American horror. There is one REALLY bad CG pass involving a tentacle in the first act. If you've seen the movie you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's pretty distracting. Totally took me out of the mood I was in for a second. (It's not so bad in the director's black and white cut he couldn't get released in thaters). After that Scifi channel quality tentacle, the rest of THE MIST has some dazzling FX done with a shockingly low-budget. The creatures are neat mixture of CG, animatronics, and gruesome make-up worthy of a Guillermo del Toro movie. In a old-Hollywood classicist way, the acting is pretty amusing too. Thomas Jane and Andre Braugher really stand out. Above all Marcia Gay Harden brings the best and craziest performance to the film. She's hilarious. Also, Mark Isham's score is used appropriately only to punctuate apocalyptic moments and I never thought it was used as a manipulative crutch. I salute Darabont for getting this story to screen and for wearing his influences proudly on his sleeve while managing to create a work that doesn't exist as purely a tired homage.

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