Wednesday, March 26, 2008

THE MIST (2007) d. Frank Darabont

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

While it began with the advent of film at the Turn of the Century, the happy blending of the horror and science fiction genres really took off in the 1950s. By the end of that decade, movie lovers had been inundated in surrealistic cinematic splendor as monsters, beasties and aliens smashed, thrashed and bashed their way across the Silver Screen. Since the glory days of the 50s, horror/sci-fi has continued to be a staple of theatres, drive-ins, vhs, dvd and all manner of visual entertainment, but we never seemed to fully recapture the grandeur of a time when anything seemed possible once the film was rolling. THE MIST is one the best efforts since the 1950s at bringing a 50s-style monster movie to the Big Screen and it does it with a mix style and substance.

THE MIST is the story of a group of Maine villagers who awake one morning after a violent thunderstorm to find a sense of worry, quickly deepening to panic settling over their town, even as an eerie mist creeps down out of the mountains and engulfs their community. Before long, a small group of citizens is trapped in the town supermarket as it becomes more and more apparent that “something” is in the mist. As the truth becomes more frightening and equally impossible to accept, the grocery store denizens’ reason, courage and resolve begin to unravel. Neighbor is pitted against neighbor in a battle for control of their destinies even as the fight for their survival is joined. Finally, the ultimate choice is offered, flee or fight to the last, and it is the decisions of faction leaders like David Drayton played by Thomas Jane and Mrs. Carmody played by Marcia Gay Harden that leads to horrifying resolution.

THE MIST is what monster movies and horror films use to be like, and that is why it works so well. The story patiently unfolds and the storyteller never quite tips his hand as the plot progresses. The viewer is left to ponder what is happening, why it is happening, where things are going and why the characters are responding as they do. Every twist in the tale and every surge in the screenplay are crafted with care, building suspense and a sense of dread that cannot be shaken off. What is even more beautiful is the simplicity of the story and how it blends with an equally simple setting. Trap a small number of people in a mundane place, take much of what they rely on away from them, send apparitions from darkest corners of the imagination against them, but make them difficult to see and fight, then sap the sanity of these unfortunates and let their humanity dissipate and you’ve got a recipe for dynamic character interplay interspersed with frightening imagery and even more grisly consequences. THE MIST had a delightful 50s live television feel at times due to the marvelously minimalist setting and even more like theater due to the brilliantly forged conflict between the characters. Add to that visions of monster madness that invoke films like THE CRAWLING EYE, THEM and THE GIANT MANTIS and it felt like I was watching Creature Feature again on a Saturday morning in front of my parents’ old black & white set and devouring films like THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, REPTILICUS and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.

There are many other reasons to like THE MIST, not the least of which is that it is predominantly adults who drive the character interaction. It is not that having young people in a film is always the “road to disaster”, but the world has just as many people over 35 as it does kids. Having a true cross section of adults, genders, backgrounds and races made the townsfolk feel more realistic, just as it also felt genuine that they weren’t all “hot and buff”. The CGI in THE MIST was used judiciously so that it didn’t feel like the film was built around the effects, rather the effects were there to support the story. In addition, money and talent were expended thoughtfully when it came to the visuals so that they looked superb and didn’t leave one drenched in “cheesiness”. While many 50s monster movies were meant to be “cheesy” even then, most weren’t and the creators of flicks like TARANTULA wanted their cinematography to be as authentic and terrifying as it could be. When the creatures cascade across the screen during THE MIST, you feel very much like they could be in the audience with you at any moment.

Like all films, THE MIST has its weaknesses. While Marcia Gay Harden and William Sadler give superb performances, Thomas Jane maintains his penchant for woodenness. The ending of THE MIST is also a VERY debatable element. While any “downer” ending is a plus with me, I felt that that the denouement went just a little past its most powerful point and should have wrapped up a few minutes earlier, leaving the viewer with that dragging sense of gloom coupled with an even deeper sense of mystery.

THE MIST is a two-disc Collector’s Edition and what a treasure trove of goodies it has! On disc one, Frank Darabont offers a film commentary. There is also a commentary-optional series of deleted scenes. There is a featurette called “An Appreciation of an Artist” about Drew Struzan. Finally, there are “behind the scenes” webisodes and trailers. It is disc 2 that has some even more amazing jewels including the black & white Director’s Edition of THE MIST introduced by Mr. Darabont. There are also four other featurettes; “When Darkness Came-The Making of The Mist”, “Taming the Beast-The Making of Scene 35”, “Monsters Among Us” about the creature effects and “The Horror of It All” dealing with the visual effects. In today’s world of skimpy dvd extras or totally empty extras menus, to find a king’s ransom like this attached to a thoroughly enjoyable film is supremely satisfying. Thank you!

When I went to see PRIMEVAL, I had been looking forward to the experience because the thought of a giant alligator tearing chunks of humanity apart like a toddler shredding his toys seemed very appealing. Sadly, that movie delivered on little of its promise due to story, effects, casting and filming problems. THE MIST gets it as right as a modern monster movie can. It has the chilling scenes mixed with a thought-provoking screenplay. There are interesting characters put into terrible situations that leave you thankful for a cozy house after the dark theater. More than anything, THE MIST makes you feel like it was when you went to the drive-in, or turned on a late night Horror Host show, or walked down to the neighborhood cinema with your girlfriend to eat popcorn and get the daylights scared out of you by some fine horror/sci-fi that kind of felt like it could really happen.

No comments: