On the surface, The Mist had the makings of a run-of-the-mill creature flick. But while it certainly borrows some monster movie ingredients from the classics, The Mist is elevated by some fresh (if brutally bleak) ideas.
The Mist was based on Stephen King’s 1980 book of the same name. It was directed by the legendary Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) and features an all-star cast composed of the likes of Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Samuel Witwer, and Toby Jones.
The Mist centers around David, a father who leaves his wife at their agrarian home to go to a nearby town with their son for supplies to repair their house, which was recently damaged by a thunderstorm. When they arrive at a grocery store, a badly injured, hysterical man rushes into the store after being attacked by an otherworldly creature. The store becomes enveloped in mist, so the store shoppers opt to lock themselves in for refuge until they figure out what is happening outside.
Almost immediately, a fundamentalist Christian woman, Mrs. Carmody, manically proclaims her belief that recent local events mirror those foretold in the Bible and that they are experiencing the Apocalypse. She is initially brushed off as a neurotic zealot, but as the situation intensifies and the towns folk grow more paranoid and less rational, Carmody begins garnering believers who grow militant.
Amanda Dunfrey: You don’t have much faith in humanity, do you?
Dan Miller: None, whatsoever.
Amanda Dunfrey: I can’t accept that. People are basically good; decent. My god, David, we’re a civilized society.
David Drayton: Sure, as long as the machines are working and you can dial 911. But you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, you scare the shit out of them – no more rules.
Hungarian-American filmmaker Frank Darabont is a hugely influential filmmaker in the horror community, writing the screenplay for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, The Blob, and The Fly II. More recently, he’s played a key role in adapting The Walking Dead for AMC. While the director is best known for his adaptations of two of King’s other works of fiction, The Mist was the story Darabont had long desired adapting before The Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile.
Darabont is particularly qualified to adapt The Mist considering his extensive work with creating cinematic monsters. And although The Mist’s monsters remain mostly shrouded in the proverbial mist, their impact plays a vital role in driving home the film’s primary source of scares– the fear of the unknown (the mist).
Stephen King’s source material was released in 1980, but its narrative seems appropriately metaphorical of post-9/11 America, a time when horrific events divided the nation between calmly-rational left and religiously-zealous right. The film’s titular mist reflects the mental fog that clouds the judgements of the grocery store’s inhabitants and turns them on each other.
The Mist could be described as a bottle movie, given that it primarily takes place in a grocery store– where its inhabitants are forced between staying put inside or venturing out into the unknown. What monsters dwell in the mist? Darabont reveals the film’s creatures sparingly, giving the film a more slow-burning horror rather than a full-out CGI-centered spectacle.
The focus is never really on the monsters at all. Where they come from, what their motivations are, how did they get here are all questions with inconsequential or non-existent answers. The conflict cleverly focuses on the humans and the fear and tribalism that grows between them. For that reason, The Mist is more easily likened to The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street than to typical monster horror films.
Frank Darabont’s cinematic telling of a Stephen King’s small town invaded by creatures from another dimension is probably best known for its heart-breaking final scene. But what comes before it is a moody build up that manages to also serve as a poignant allegory about the harm that comes from religious and political cliquishness. Ultimately, The Mist is thoroughly effective creature flick that uses its isolated location to propel its scares– even if it sometimes gets bogged down by its overly serious tone.