Tuesday, February 28, 2012

100 Movies - No. 60: The Mist

60. The Mist (2007)
Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller, 126 minutes
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden and Toby Jones

Frank Darabont hasn’t directed many movies, but three of them are in my collection. The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are both adapted from Stephen King stories and so is The Mist. Despite its lower budget, The Mist is another strong entry from Darabont.

The thing I like about Stephen King is that most story elements are based in the real world. We can identify with the type of town and the characters who inhabit it, but he usually changes one or two things to transport us into another world. In this instance, the other element is the mist. We learn that it has leaked through from an entrance to another dimension, along with some of the creatures from that reality.

The exposition is handled well and draws the viewer into the situation. After a brief description of David Drayton’s (Jane) home life, he travels into town with his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) and neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher). While the three are shopping in the local supermarket, a man runs in with blood on his face warning that there’s something in the mist.

Some of my favorite stories examine what happens when society breaks down. Stephen King seems to enjoy writing about it too. The Stand is one of the best novels dealing with the psychological effects of a catastrophe and The Mist delves into the same territory. Imagine the situation: you’re in a store and a mist descends outside. A man runs in injured and shouts a warning. Do you listen, or do you ignore the warning and assume it’s a natural phenomenon?

Some people are deeply rooted in routines. They know how much they earn and live one or two paychecks away from disaster. Their routine means that they rarely have to think about anything out of the ordinary. They may excel in one or two known situations, but be completely out of their depth when facing the unknown. That’s when we see who the real leaders are.

Who will crumble and who will adapt and remain calm under pressure? Will anyone lose touch with reality completely and start behaving in unpredictable ways? Would you steal to feed your family or kill to protect someone? The Mist shows what happens in just such a situation. The results are interesting to say the least.

My favorite character is Ollie (Jones), the assistant manager of the store. He’s a great example of how people are not always what they seem. Looking like an older version of Radar O’Reilly, he’s able to step up and make a difference in a crisis.

Darabont doesn’t spend a fortune on special effects, but the result is convincing to me. As the story unfolds, we see a variety of creatures. Some of them are close to creatures we know while others are like nothing we have ever seen.

Another interesting choice from Darabont is the use of sound in the movie. Most entries in this genre would feature music heavily during every action scene. Darabont chooses to just show the events as they happen without trying to influence our mood with music. There are a few muted sound effects for most of the movie, but nothing more. The result is that we are drawn into the situation even more as if we are left alone to think about how we would handle the situation. The one exception is in the last few minutes of the story when The Host of Seraphim (Dead Can Dance) is played during a pivotal scene. Its impact is greatly enhanced due to the absence of music in the remainder of the movie.

Darabont changes King’s original ending. It’s a brave choice and will annoy a lot of people. King remarked that he wishes he had thought of it. It’s a resolution of sorts and it’s certainly not typical Hollywood fare.

Darabont's films appeal to me because he isn't in a rush to tell the story. Scenes have greater meaning because the characters are established in our minds. If you think about Red in The Shawshank Redemption or Paul Edgecomb in The Green Mile, their actions seem authentic based on what we know about their characters. The same is true of David Drayton in The Mist. He's a rational man who cares about his family. His instincts are to protect people, but he won't rush into things without thinking. Darabont's world is perfectly crafted and everything fits.

If you like The Mist:

I have mentioned The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Although they are not horror stories, Darabont's style is all over them. It's likely that you would enjoy both if you like The Mist. Darabont also created The Walking Dead TV series and directed Season 1. It's well worth a look if you like the way he introduces his worlds.

You may have noticed that this 100 movies series includes very little horror. That's because I prefer psychological horror over gore, action and shocks, and there aren't many good options. The Mist feels like a throwback to classic horror and movies which have a similar feel include The Exorcist and The Omen. Both were made in the 1970s and are set in the real world. Like The Mist, the two stories take the time to develop the characters. You won't see much action, but the stories draw you in and make you care about the outcome.

Return to index of 100 movies to see before you die.

Return to index of every review on the site.


  1. Steven, your list just keeps getting better. Like you, I'm not a huge fan of horror, but The Mist is one of my favorites in the genre, along with The Exorcist and The Omen (which you also mention). I loved the super depressing ending and Marcia Gay Harden's work, which I think was one of the finest performances that year (she should've been nominated for something).

    Again, like you, I enjoy Darabont's adaptations of Stephen King. This, Shawshank and Green Mile are among my favorite films. Also, I can totally agree with you when you say that some of your favorite stories examine what happens when society breaks down. I feel the same way.

  2. Fernando,

    It's good to know that there are other people who think like me and appreciate some of the things I like.

    Harden was very convincing in the role. I thought that was clever writing to show how dangerous people can be when they have that mob mentality. I was writing about groupthink in today's Moneyball review, and it think it applies here as well.