Frank Darabont has had a rather strange career. After his student work came to the notice of Stephen King, his first semi-professional outing was The Woman in the Room adapted from the horrormeister's short story and released in the golden days of VHS.
This release gave him his shot at his first major feature, again a Stephen King adaptation. The Shawshank Redemption flopped on its cinematic release before gaining a cult audience on VHS and DVD before eventually becoming recognised as one of the finest films of all time. Darabont then followed this up with another King adaptation, this time from his serial novel The Green Mile. This found considerable success, and led Darabont to make a long cherished project The Majestic
Sadly, despite the presence of Jim Carrey at the height of his popularity, and a refreshing, whimsical outlook on the world - the film flopped and Darabont seemed to go into semi-retirement. Apart from the occasional writing credit, and an abortive shot at the script for the new “Indiana Jones” movie, very little was heard of him until last year. Whilst directing an episode of TV series The Shield, Darabont got the idea of using the crew to make a low budget film of a long cherished project - another Stephen King adaptation. This time, it was another short story - The Mist
I must admit that I had thoroughly enjoyed all of Darabont's efforts, including the sadly underrated The Majestic. So when I heard that The Mist was out in America last year, I waited and waited for a UK release. And waited. And waited. Friends saw it in America and raved about it, especially That Ending. But still no release was scheduled for this country.
So, when it came out on Region One DVD with no release scheduled for the UK I jumped at the opportunity to review it.
In The Mist we open on the main character, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) who is surveying the aftermath of a storm and the damage it has wreaked on his house. His neighbour, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), has neglected his big tree and it has been knocked down on to Drayton's boat house. The two go into the town to pick up supplies together, leaving Drayton's wife at home. Drayton's son, Billy (Nathan Gamble, soon to be seen in The Dark Knight) travels with them.
In the midst of their trip, a Military Policeman comes in to the store and quietly tells three army men doing their shopping that all leave has been cancelled and they must return to base. Before they get a chance, however, in one of the most chilling scenes in the film a siren goes off, and a bloodied older man comes running panicked into the store, screaming about something in the mist. Behind him, a dense mist rolls in and before the characters know it, they are trapped inside the store.
When some of the shoppers try to escape and all that is heard of them are screams of panic it becomes clear that this is no ordinary mist - a view that is backed up when tentacles come in through the store room door and carry off the bus boy. As the story goes on, the threat from outside grows only to be matched from the threat from inside. Eventually our main character faces two choices. The first which leads to redemption, the second which leads to the most shocking ending ever seen in mainstream cinema.
Darabont has never really shown his true nasty side, but in The Mist he gleefully lets loose. There may have been some brutal scenes in The Shawshank Redemption but The Mist is just a nasty, brutal, cynical, blunt movie - and is all the better for it. The film has a lot to say about the human condition, and none of it is nice. You will come out of a viewing of this film feeling like you have truly been put through the same experience as the main protagonists.
The first thing to mention is the style of the direction. The Mist was originally envisioned as a modern “B” movie, and this is exactly what Darabont has achieved. The film has a limited budget, and a mainly TV crew, but it does everything it can to belie its origins. The director has a very clear and precise idea of exactly what he is aiming for with the film, and knows exactly what to do to achieve his aims.
We live in an age of horror porn, where gore is ladled on to provide the scares and directors do not really understand the value of “less is more”. Darabont knows when to ladle on the horror (one scene when the characters explore the pharmacy next door to the shop is gory and terrifying in equal measure) but he is far more interested in working hard for the scares. Therefore, one scene where a character goes out into the car park with a rope tied around him and we just see events from the point of view of those holding the rope, is just as scary as if we had seen the monsters in full view.
And that is somehow the key to the whole enterprise. We never quite get to see the full monsters. We are aware of what is out there, but we never see the full bodies of the threat outside. The first view we get is via tentacles coming under a door, and later on we do see some flying monsters. But the larger ones are always just out of view, covered by the mist. The monsters, of course, are represented via CGI and despite the limited budget they are realised very well indeed. The tentacles are very poor and rightly the subject of much derision - and this is a great shame as the subsequent CGI is extremely well done indeed. One scene where a flying monster appears right in the distance before coming closer and closer is very well realised.
The acting, also, is universally excellent. The film is three parts horror to seven parts “Lord of the Flies” as the humans inside the shop slowly but very surely show the very worse side of humanity and religion. Darabont, unlike other filmmakers, understand that King's success is as much due to the characters he creates rather than the horror he writes. His characters are maybe clichéd now - but this is only because he invented them and created them so well. Darabont knows that it is the characters he needs to focus on in the film and he does this extremely well.
The director is very much an actor's director - anyone who has seen Shawshank will know this. In The Mist he draws universally excellent performances from the whole cast, right down to the child. This is a true ensemble piece and at all times the performances make the film totally believable.
Finally, the ending of the film is an absolute sucker punch. It is one of those endings that you just want to sit down and tell people about. But I must resist the temptation. You must discover it for yourself. You will be glad you did.
The Mist is not the perfect film. The middle of the film does sag a little, and the early CGI effects are a little ropey - but these are minor quibbles. What Darabont has produced is a film that dares to be different, that dares to be nasty, and dares to end in a manner that no normal Hollywood movie would. Any fan of horror should check this film out, and anyone who just appreciates a decent thrill ride will also thoroughly enjoy this. At the time of writing there is still no cinema release planned in the UK (although it has been certified a rather perplexing 15), but really that doesn't matter. The Mist would not greatly benefit from a big screen, and on DVD you get the choice of watching the colour version or the director's preferred black and white version - which was not released in the cinema. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the film is ideally suited to home viewing.
Whether you choose colour or black and white to experience this film, you owe it to yourself to check it out. You will not regret it.
Our Review Ethos