Film (2007). Dimension Films, Darkwoods Productions, The Weinstein Company. Directed by Frank Darabont. Written by Darabont, from Stephen King's "The Mist" (in Dark Forces, anth 1980, edited by Kirby McCauley). Cast includes Andre Braugher, Jeffrey DeMunn, Nathan Gamble, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Thomas Janes, Toby Jones, Melissa Susan McBride and Frances Sternhagen. 126 minutes. Colour.
The setting is Bridgton, Maine, a version of Stephen King's Castle Rock, the imaginary small town in rural Maine he uses as a convenient microcosm for loose-limbed Thought Experiments in the nature of community, the plight of modern-day America, the role of the Hero in a post-heroic world, and vastation: most King experiments of this sort confront anyone who survives with a ravaged world (see Horror in SF). As usual, it is the present day. A bad storm that damages his lake-side home, and an ominous mist drifting in from the north, persuade commercial artist David Drayton (Jane) to take his young son Billy (Gamble) and combative black lawyer Brent Norton (Braugher) into town to stock up at the local supermarket. Except for forays, they do not leave it until the climax of The Mist, a fairly long film whose constricted mise en scene intensifies the focus on character, but conveys a made-for-tv feel to the action (the film was in fact theatrically released).
En route to Bridgton, Drayton had noticed military vehicles heading north, towards a military base whose purpose is unknown. The crowded supermarket contains a range of characters, some of them locals, some (like Drayton) "from away" in the Maine phrase, and some soldiers; unfortunately, director Darabont's disinclination to give the locals Maine accents, or those from away to speak anything but standard American (despite the proximity of Boston), scumbles over some of the sharp issues that do exist (King is very aware of them) and that discriminate between Maine locals and others in terms of occupation, income, race, class and politics. This failure to seek the devil in the details fatally flattens the storyline, which turns on how various factions of the Bridgton microcosm respond to the growing challenge of the enveloping mist, from the depths of which clearly ravenous tentacled Monsters soon murderously appear. In response to this escalating threat, Drayton half-reluctantly assumes the role of Hero; but the film's lack of focus or sense of place fuzzes over the viewer's ability to judge how morally or practically appropriate his decisions are, or how "good" a hero Drayton actually turns out to be.
Against his wishes, some of the trapped Bridgtonians leave in panic, and are soon heard screaming. An unnamed woman (McBride), who had left her children home while she shopped, asks for someone to escort her to them. No one will do so; Drayton tells her he must remain in order to protect his own son. More are killed, including his over-verbal neighbour. Night falls and huge alien insects, attracted by the light, fix themselves to the supermarket windows, where they fall victim to large pterodactyl-like bird creatures who in their feeding frenzy crack the windows. After more chaos and pain, they are killed. A surviving soldier from the nearby military base has been forced to admit that an experiment designed to open other Dimensions for exploitation had gone awry: it was now a door through which creatures from other realities were now pouring. Meanwhile, local resentments are being focused by venomous born-again Christian Mrs Carmody (Harden), an opportunistic psychic whose fundamentalist tirades against monsters, and (by implication) those from away, continue off and on for much of the rest of the film.
Drayton has already led one expedition, to the next-door pharmacy, losing two more friends and supporters. He now decides that he, his son, and three friends must try to escape south in his SUV. Attempting to leave, they are confronted by Mrs Carmody, who finally goes too far. When she demands the life of Drayton's son as a sacrifice to God, she is shot dead by store supervisor Ollie Weeks (Jones). Drayton and his four companions, leaving everyone else behind to deal with Carmody's corpse, manage to get to the SUV.
At this point, as though everything that had occurred in the supermarket was precisely an experiment whose outcome was now to be revealed, the film changes tenor, pace and setting, as the SUV very slowly circles through the parking lot and exits southwards, the sound-track now dominated by "The Host of the Seraphim" as sung by the experimental band Dead Can Dance. It is as though a portal has opened, through which the annunciated Everyman/hero and his small flock enter as though inevitably. They drive slowly through the mist past Portland, past Kennebunk, through scenes of apocalyptic desolation, much resembling the End of the World that Mrs Carmody had ranted about. At one point the earth begins to shake, forcing the SUV to a halt as a vast skyscraper-high insectoidal leviathan materializes out of the mist, heading in the direction of the sea. Finally they run out of gas. The mist continues to engulf them, and strange sounds can be heard in counterpoint to Dead Can Dance's penetrating lament. Drayton counts the bullets in his gun. There are four. Though his son is not old enough to agree, the three others are swayed by Drayton's despair, and silently accede to the hero's decision. From outside the SUV, we see four flashes. He has killed them all, including his son, who did not have the vote. Now utterly alone, Drayton climbs into the open air to face his own death. A froglike amphibian approaches. It is a US soldier with protective breathing gear. A tank then appears, and a truck carrying refugees, among them the unnamed woman Drayton had refused to help, along with several customers from the store. Not only was Drayton mortally wrong in shooting everyone he loved in the world, but he was wrong in persuading them to leave the shop in the first place. As the film ends, the hero is screaming.
To avoid charges of melodrama, so portentous and desolately twisted an ending needed to seem inevitable, to seem to be an incontestable outcome of the story that precedes it. Certainly Drayton's refusal of help to the unnamed woman, though seemingly sensible, is the kind of behaviour unlikely to pass unpunished; and from the get-go people who follow his directions do tend to drop like flies; and the vanity implied in his deadly despair – without any real evidence, he has decided what terminal message to take from his intuition that the morrow is going to suck – is clear enough. But none of this is fixed into an observed world, and so has nothing to take off from. The laxness that detunes The Mist as a whole seriously undermines any presumption that its ending might entail any genuine lesson. The Apocalypse here is nothing more than a Disaster, and the Hero is a murderous chump. [JC]
see also: Monster Movies.
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