Frank Darabont must be really pissed at George Lucas. Either that or someone ran over his dog – which may be more likely, as having an Indy script ditched doesn’t explain the thematic volte-face displayed in The Mist. Gone is The Shawshank Redemption’s soaring optimism. Cheerio comforting li’l mouse from The Green Mile. Hello big vicious crawlies that jump out of the mist and tear your skin off. And they aren’t the nastiest thing in the movie. That would be Marcia Gay Harden.
She’s a zealous, judgement-spouting nutjob who ferments trouble in a besieged supermarket where sundry townsfolk – led, in the reasonable corner, by Thomas Jane – are hiding from the perils of poor visibility and merciless arachnid-insectoid death. Darabont’s point? That the monster is inside of us – a point he underlines, emboldens and blows up in LARGE TYPE FOR THE HARD OF THINKING during a couple of the clunkier dialogue exchanges. (“You scare people badly enough you’ll get them to do anything!”).
If the escape debate sequence proves risible, it doesn’t detract from Darabont’s success. The Mist is a gripping, cruel, intense little thriller. It’s let down by some cardboard characterisation and an overblown sense of its own importance, but is still impressively scary. The film’s big misfortune is that it’s arriving in UK cinemas that are still vibrating from Cloverfield’s shaky-cam shocks: it would be a shame if audiences skipped it because they’ve had their creature feature fix. Instead of JJ Abrams and Matt Reeves’ glossy model ciphers we have staple Stephen King characters – the demented woman (Harden), geek with a twist (Toby Jones), artistic yet capable ‘everyman’ (Jane) – and Darabont keeps the pace brisk enough to mostly forgive, or at least deliberately ignore, the familiarity. You’re just waiting for the next chow-down…
The story is essentially John Carpenter’s The Fog with vicious invertebrates instead of rickety pirates – adapted, like Shawshank and Mile, from a King novella (from 1984’s horror anthology Skeleton Crew). But Darabont acknowledges his debt to Carpenter in the opening sequence: hanging in the workspace of Jane’s artist is a poster for The Thing, a nod to the dark places The Mist will envelop, particularly in the final third. It’s here that the director is particularly adept – teasing shocks and ratcheting up the tension as Jane tries to fend off the fundamentalists and escape the nasties. The Katrina and Iraq parallels may be too on-the-nose and the final beat is far from the existential hammer-blow intended, but whatever else Darabont achieves, he sure shanks redemption.
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It's no more Mr Nice Frank, as Darabont ditches feelgood humanism for a full-blooded creature feature that's drenched in cynicism. The subtext clunks but there are enough vicious, viscous scares to satisfy.