Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Mist (2007, Frank Darabont)

There's a lot to like about The Mist, which if nothing else is one of the bleakest big-budget genre movies released by a studio in years. The effects are surprisingly good, the acting solid, and if nothing else I can take away the image of Toby Jones, badass. And it's nihilistic as hell- not only does a character actually utter the line, "put more than two of us in a room and we'll start figuring out ways to kill each other. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?", but the film actually shows his insight to be well-founded. So why did I come out of this feeling vaguely disappointed? Three reasons: (1) it's not nearly as claustrophobic as it ought to be. I wasn't expecting the director of The Shawshank Redemption to be particularly adept at bringing the scares, but for all he does right here, most of the mistakes he makes as a director would be fairly easy to fix if he'd only keep the damn camera inside the store. The secret to making a great film like this is to make the claustrophobia palpable. Keep us with the characters and don't show us anything they don't see. Romero knew this when he made Night of the Living Dead, and Carpenter when he made Assault on Precinct 13 and the like. Every time Darabont cuts to a needless shot outside the store, the tension is defused, which is never a good idea. (2) The Marcia Gay Harden stuff is too broadly played. As the fire and brimstone Bible thumper who uses every misfortune vested upon the people in the story to win converts for the Lord, Harden doesn't necessarily give a bad performance, but the character seems too convenient a villain. I have no doubt that given a big enough crowd in this situation, someone would emerge spewing bile in His name, but the film makes it too easy for us to boo and hiss at her from the audience. A better film might not be able to make her sympathetic, but it might at least allow us to understand what it is about her that wins over her followers, beyond the demands of the plot. And finally, there's the little matter of (3) the ending. A perfect ending for this story might have allowed me not necessarily to overlook the film's flaws, but to forgive them. And for a minute there, the film has that perfect dark ending in its grasp. But just when it appears that Darabont will have the balls to fade to black at just the right time, the delicious irony ends up giving way to a cheaper, sub-Rod Serling brand of irony that leaves a bad taste in the mouth as the end credits roll. Seriously, Darabont- you had it. Why did you have to keep going? Rating: 6 out of 10.


Steve said...

I dunno. I think the ending works if you view it through the prism of Harden being right. Which, ya know, she kinda is, if you look at it.

Paul C. said...

Well, it's not just that the mist suddenly lifts right at the most dramatically convenient moment and reveals the [SPOILERS] rolling by, but also that the movie brings back that woman at the beginning as an ironic twist of the knife. Take that, Tom Jane! If you'd only been nice at the beginning, you wouldn't have had to worry about the monsters!

Now, if it was a certain other character who showed up at the end, then I would've been down.

Steve said...


Well, if you remember, the only major Bible story mentioned by Harden during her proselytizing is the story of Abraham -- you know, the guy whose child was spared when he deigned to sacrifice him to prove his devotion to God. Tom Jane, on the other hand, sacrifices his child because he's, in essence, running away from God. So, as punishment, God sticks him into a hell of his own making. I think leaving him to wander in the mist forever would actually be less appropriate -- when the tanks roll by, it's as though Jane has been handed a true measure of his faithlessness. That's why I think the woman from the beginning is a better mirror than Braugher -- if the latter is there, it's a "you were wrong" on one level, but when the woman shows up, it's a "you were wrong" on EVERY level.

(Hell, I'm not even religious...)

(Also, this does make the film sound awfully reactionary... but then, isn't horror often the most reactionary of genres?)

Paul C. said...

I see what you're getting at, but the execution of it just didn't work for me.


What I would have enjoyed about a Braugher-survives ending would have been the implication that he lived BECAUSE he didn't believe. That everyone who remained in the store did so out of a childlike fear that the monster in the closet (or in this case, the mist) was lying in wait for them, and this fear led them to infighting and eventually death. So while Tom Jane would go through living hell to survive and sacrifice his son along the way, Braugher's lack of belief saved him.

Or maybe I just couldn't stomach the idea of a rabid thumper like Harden being right, in this universe or any other.