Steven King's The Mist
After reviewing a growing list of low budget horror flicks it was a nice little chance of pace to watch a larger budget installment in this genre. ‘Steven King’s The Mist’ cost an estimated $18 million to make. This budget would cover making over a dozen of the usual Indy horror faire. The film is slicker than its low end counterparts and works in the genre. There is little doubt that Steven King is part of American horror royalty. His novel ‘The Stand’ remains a classic and the television mini series made from it is still one of the best ever in that format. Over the years King’s work has become almost predictable but ‘The Mist’ is a return to his venerable roots. It is a good old fashion scary story that is best viewed on a dark and stormy night with the lights turned off. Yes, it does follow a formula but that is not unusual for horror flicks. You need a group of people, some will be expendable, gathered together to ward off an impending terror. All too often the group is comprised of teens or twenty-somethings that are so annoying that it is neigh on impossible for the audience to care about what happens to them. Some of these characters are so grating that you can find yourself cheering on the lethal creature. King as always has taken a broader view of this requirement of the genre taking his huddled groups tend to be more representative of the population at large. Right there you have the foundation for the necessary emotional bond between potential victims and audience. This film is not the best story he has ever written but it does satisfy far more than most of the current selections in the horror section.
Experience usually shows in the quality of the finished film and this one is no different. When it comes to turning a Steven King novella into a film few men have the experience of Frank Darabont. As the writer and director of this movie he is far from a novice. Darabont has worked in both capacities for previous film adaptations of King’s novellas ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘The Green Mile’. Both of these films are highly regarded by critics and audiences alike. Albeit this film will not rise to the level of the other two but it is a solid story. Holding the story together is the way King and Darabont can collaborate together. They seem to be used to each other’s styles and they mess well. So many times the film version is too far removed from the written work. King’s stories, especially his novellas are well suited to a film version. He is an efficient writer who does not need an excess of prose to tell the tale. What Darabont does it takes the essence of the story and makes it easier to film. There are some quotes from King that the ending has been revised by Darabont and that anyone revealing it should be hanged. King is at least open to allowing the scriptwriter to alter his plot if the result is a better movie.
As a director Darabont starts things off nice and easy. He gives the audience enough time to get to know the characters and all their little quirks. He makes the most out of a normally overused plot device of fog or mist. Sure it is a natural for adding a touch of suspense to the story but Darabont films it in such a way that it is a character in the story. The cheap way out would be to just have it hide the creature or whatever is out there until the last minute reveal. Darabont takes a more difficult road and does it successfully. The mist is virtually alive lurking out just beyond the relative safety of the doorway. One of his stylistic choices that depart from King’s view of horror is the creature. King relishes his monsters. He savors the fact that horror can be perfectly constructed. For Darabont the creature is evil incarnate and the focus remains more on the people desperate for salvation. This was made from a novella that is almost three decades old by now. Darabont presents this as a period piece that returns the ‘Consistent readers’ of King’s work back in time. Some of King’s favorite archetypes are highlighted here. One is the overly religious older woman waving her bible at all the sinners around her. Darabont gives the right amount of attention to these strange and wonderfully drawn characters resulting in this movie moving about the horror pack.
Like most of King’s stories it begins in the little town of Castle Rock, Maine. It was just hit by a storm of unusual intensity that has deprived the inhabitants of power. One of the townsfolk is David Drayton (Thomas Jane) who works from home as an artist specializing in cover art for books. He decides to make a run to the local supermarket to bring in some supplies. Off he goes taking is his nine year old son Billy (Nathan Gamble) with him. Weather like this is not too unusual for Main so there is nothing odd about a father and son making such a food run leaving his wife Stephanie (Kelly Collins Lintz) at home to clean up. A large tree has smashed into the home and David also plans on stopping by the hardware store on his way back home. As David and Stephanie look out over the lake they notice a very thick mist rolling towards them. On the way David and Billy are joined by a neighbor, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher). Once in the store people begin to notice a lot of commotion going on outside. Tension begins to mount in the store when suddenly Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) runs in, his nose bleeding. He is in terror trying to explain that something is in the mist and its coming. As the mist covers the streets making it impossible to see more that a few feet an earthquake shakes the town. A mother (Melissa Suzanne McBride) with a couple of small children begs for someone to escort her home but one will is willing. As if the situation was not bad enough a local religious zealot Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) is thumping her ever present Bible and shouting about Armageddon. Along with a few others a local mechanic Jim (William Sadler) opens the loading door to try to fix the generator. Tentacles whip out of the mist and drag off the bag boy Norm (Chris Owen).
The film features some excellent performances. Harden can play a lunatic as her character here without making her a villain. She plays Carmody as a woman of strong, albeit myopic beliefs. She is spouting religious warnings but Harding lets the audience understand that she finally feels vindicated. Thomas Jane gives a strong performance as the father trying to save his son and get back to his wife. He is a man driven by the purest form of emotions, survival. Andre Braugher is always a delight to watch in any film or television show he appears in. He is one of the better character actors around and does a lot to making this cast work.
The film comes to DVD through Genius Productions and the Weinstein Company. It is branded with the new horror related division Dimension Extreme. While many of the early releases under this name were low budget flicks they are showing that they will bring all variations of horror to disc. They have two variations available. One is the regular one disc widescreen; the other a two disc limited edition. Since the retail cost difference on many sites is less that $5 you should go deluxe. Both have an anamorphic 1.85:1 video (plus a Pan & Scan version) and Dolby 5.1 audio.
Darabont had envisioned this film as a classic fifties horror flick. He pays homage to such films as ‘the Crawling Eye’ with a complete black and white version of the film. It is great to see the difference and just how well black and white works here. This is one worth getting and enjoying.
For those that are on the more high end side of home theater Dimension Films has now provided a Blu-ray release. This is also a two disc set but with the added capacity of this format it will look and sound better than ever. I thought the Dolby 5.1 audio was incredible but when I put this disc in the player and tuned to the TrueHD sound track I was simply blown away. the attention to details here is fantastic. You hear every little creak in the wood and the beating of the wings on the monsters. The channel separation is far better than on the DVD version. The clarity of the video is exceptional. The color version just seems moodier than before and the black and white variation is so crisp and clear that you will not believe it. If you have a Blu-ray this is the version that has to be in your collection.
Posted 03/12/08 (DVD)
Posted 08/25/08 (Blu-ray)