Well, here we are in the last week of my look back at modern horror classics. Wednesday is Halloween and October will draw to a close. *SIGH* It is my favorite month. But before my post-Halloween depression sets in, let me tell you about one more of my favorite modern horror movies. My last pick is The Mist. I’m a big fan of Stephen King. But adaptations of his works have been pretty hit or miss. While The Mist may not have been a huge success critically or commercially, to me it’s one of the most underrated big screen versions of his work. Despite a change to the ending of the original novella (King himself even praised the film’s new, bleaker ending) this is a solid page to screen translation.
The Mist takes place when a freak storm descends on a small town. In the aftermath, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and son Billy (Nathan Gamble) venture into town for supplies. When the two of them arrive at the grocery store, there is a flurry of police and military activity. An MP even enters the store and tells the patrons to evacuate. Shortly after, a panicking man enters the store warning everyone that there is something in the mist. Then a thick mist surrounds the store and there are earthquake-level tremors.
This leads a pious woman in the store named Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) to believe that the time of Armageddon has arrived. It is revealed that something is indeed lurking in the mist when bag boy Norm (Chris Owen) volunteers to go outside, and is promptly attacked by tentacles of a monster that the patrons are unable to see through the mist. This mobilizes people to secure the store, putting up bags of dog food and doing anything they can to prevent the mist and whatever lurks within it from getting inside.
That’s the basic premise. Along with the monsters, the terrifying thing is how as the situation progresses the people in the grocery store turn on each other. Mrs. Carmody manages to whip half the people up with her religious zealot speeches. So two camps develop within the store and both have different ideas about what should be done in the situation.
What’s fascinating about The Mist is that it plays on something that the original Night of the Living Dead did. The person next to you is often scarier than the monster behind you. When the chips are down people will show their true colors. And while scares certainly do come from the creatures and the gore in The Mist, the really terrifying thing is the way that different people behave. The way Mrs. Carmody is able to so easily convince people to turn against David and his group shows the ugly tendency that humanity has to shun the outsider and how easily people can be manipulated when crippled by fear.
The Mist has a real sense of claustrophobia. You wouldn’t think such a compelling story could be told about people trapped in a grocery store with a supernatural presence outside. But it’s very effective because the character all feel like believable people. Everyone is solid, but the real scene stealer is Marcia Gay Harden. She gives the best female performance in a Stephen King film since Kathy Bates in Misery. Both women are so crazy underneath that matter of fact tone of voice that it’s downright chilling.
It’s worth noting that The Mist was directed by Frank Darabont. He also adapted Stephen King’s works for The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. While The Mist isn’t in the same league with those films, it’s a very good smaller scale story that plays like a modern Twilight Zone episode. And, be warned. The ending of The Mist is one of the most heartbreaking in modern horror film history. But it’s a fitting ending that doesn’t feel tacked on at all. The Mist may not have gotten a great reception on its initial release. But I think as time passes people will realize what a great little movie it is.