Satisfying horror movie gets a needless political twist
Creepy tentacles, bloodstained glass and fear so palpable it makes the windows tremble – classic elements of any horror film. But the brilliance of the adaptation of Stephen King's "The Mist" comes from director Frank Darabont's ability to terrify not with horrific monsters, but with petrifying atmosphere and circumstance.
After a record-strength storm hits the coast of Maine, the townspeople hit the shopping markets to stock up on supplies to last out the power outage. News comes in of some sort of crisis from the nearby military base, and soon a creepy mist rolls into town. The shoppers, among them David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble), flee into a store to escape the eerie mist, shutting and barricading the doors firmly. For the rest of the movie, the Draytons and other townspeople seeking shelter attempt to deal with the monsters of the mist and their own internal conflicts.Darabont doesn't actually produce anything tangible and scary in the first half of the movie except some oversized octopus tentacles. The atmosphere, tension and sense of unknown create the real menace and dread in "The Mist." Darapont allows the audience to fabricate its own nightmare – scarier than anything he could have put on the screen.
But when the monsters finally appear clearly in the movie, they fail to impress or shock. Flies the size of large birds and giant spiders are certainly disturbing, but not as horrifying as the movie's other elements. The most impressive creatures – the land octopus and a gargantuan queen spider – spend their few moments on the screen shrouded in the mist.
Finally, when the monsters do clash with the humans, the action scenes flow beautifully. The shoppers attempt to hold off the giant bugs with torches made from mops, sharpened brooms and a single pistol. The chaos of the situation, from a human torch to the young cashier bitten by a giant insect, is tense and excellently crafted.
"The Mist" progresses decently as a horror film until Darabont decides to commence with the political and social commentary. The true monsters, he suddenly decides, aren't the giant carnivorous insects! They're the people.
The people trapped in the supermarket split into two groups: the rational, college-educated strategists versus the dull hicks and evangelical Christians. Drayton heads the strategists while the town's resident crazy lady, Ms. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), preaches damnation and the fires of hell. The insanely religious Ms. Carmody eventually gains mob support, becoming a dictator and demanding a blood sacrifice every night to appease the mist.
Ultimately, the message Darapont attempts to send about human nature is horribly clichéd. In one terrible scene, David's group argues over the fundamental nature of humanity, with the majority of the group asserting that when overpowered by fear, humans become beasts and prey to their destructive instincts.
Ms. Carmody and her followers trigger the most terrifying (despite irrational) parts of the film. Spiders exploding from a police officer's body don't come close in fright to the way the religious zealot and her supporter punish the soldier they blame for the terrible situation, resulting in bloody sprays on the windows. But these scenes are not terrifying fun; they're just plain painful.
"The Mist" rolls out a satisfying situation with sufficient dread and terror caused by both monsters and humans, but Darapont's attempt at social commentary diminishes what could have been a delightfully horrific film.
"The Mist" is rated R for violence, terror and gore, and language, and is now playing in theaters everywhere.
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