Zombies, wasps and fire aside, there’s nothing scarier than the unknown. It’s the fear of a darkened corridor, the terror of what’s lurking just beneath your bed. Stephen King revels in such fears (he said so himself at the start of one of his books) so it was no surprise to read a novella of his all about an impenetrable mist with hidden unpleasantries. It was a surprise, however, to see Frank Darabont sign himself up to adapt and direct said novella into a feature length. Frank is a fan of the King, and probably the most accomplished at adapting his work without squeezing out all the humanity. But to see the man behind the awesome behemoths of Shawshank and Green Mile direct a monster flick? Eh?
It all becomes clear when you realise the story isn’t really about the monsters outside, and more about the monsters within each of us. The majority of the film takes place inside a supermarket, with a myriad of characters trapped together under the oppressive might of the mist. As one character says, human beings are insane. “Put two in a room and they’ll have to pick sides - that’s what religion and politics were invented for.” Darabont brings to life King’s characters in all their flawed detail, bitching and cowering, turning on one another and turning into god-jollies.
Of course, there are real monsters out there in the mist. Different to your standard gorilla, these babies range in size and shape, be it creepy giant mosquitoes, super creepy giant spider things, or flesh ripping tentacles creeping under the door. Punctuating the human drama, these nasties bring in some fun frights and good old fashioned gore, and there’s a pleasant lack of big but ultimately disappointing money shots (I‘m looking at you Cloverfield). The big mammas are merely ominous shadows, details left to your imagination. In different hands this could have been cheapo monster-shite, with bad actors battling in the vague direction of bad CGI surrounded by smoky mist. Oooo scary. In Darabont’s hands it is richly satisfying, drama meets horror. Oh, and it’s fucking depressing.
Jesus - never have I heard a cinema go quite so quiet than at the end of The Mist. When Darabont was writing the script someone must have been playing The Ting Tings and Hard-Fi at full blast. It would be enough to make anyone despise all of mankind, and certainly seems to be the mood Darabont was in. Gone is the uplifting hope of Shawshank. Come out of The Mist and you’ll probably want to sit in your bedroom and poke yourself in the eye in despair. Do I sound like I’m being negative? I’m not - Darabont mooned the studios (who begged him to change his ending) and pushed his potential cheapo monster-shite cliché into a daring and exhilarating new territory. A film to make you shudder. Jump. Frown. Laugh. And actually applause (first time I’ve heard applause at a death scene).
Though it could have been slimmed down a little, The Mist is a surprisingly fresh film considering it’s based on a book from 1985 about tentacles in fog. With themes relevant to today (fear can make people believe anything… do you hear that, sensationalist media? Stop it now) and fun monster carnage in the mix, The Mist gets an extra point for being a faithful adaptation of a great King story, and another for having the balls to tweak the story in THAT way, winning a mighty CF2. Which King will Darabont pick to dissect next? I haven’t the foggiest.
Yes. I am that funny.