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With this, his third theatrical adaptation of a Stephen King story, Frank Darabont has proven two things: First, that magic happens whenever he and King get together and the two of them should consider moving into a duplex. Second, that Frank Darabont is a sadist. He gets his jollies by hurting his audience. Not physically, but emotionally. Where other filmmakers get a reaction by ratcheting up the tension or raising the stakes to deliver thrills, Darabont does it by stabbing his audience with an emotional knife, and then twisting and turning it until we’re utterly drained of feeling. He takes special pleasure in sticking his switchblade into men, and previous Darabont directorial efforts like The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption seem specifically geared to hit that soft, gooey spot that the hardened, manly man ego keeps hidden away deep inside. Frank Darabont earns a living making grown men cry, and there’s no one better at it.
With The Mist, he’s done it again. By the time the film’s credits rolled I was wrecked, a mass of roiling emotion and depression. The movie sticks with you long after the lights come on; it lingers in your soul like a recurring nightmare or the shadowy vision of an inevitable and terrible future.
It starts with a storm and a geeky, blink and you’ll miss it, nod to fans of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” novels. David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his family retreat to their basement to ride out the bad weather. When they emerge in the morning a tree has crashed through their front window, and the power is out. David and his young son go into town for supplies, leaving his wife behind. It’s at the grocery store where David first realizes something is horribly wrong. A man, bloodied and panicked, races into the store screaming “there’s something in the mist!” Just as David and the other customers look out the window to see an unnatural mist rolling towards the store, the city’s air raid sirens sound.
They soon discover they’re trapped inside the store. To leave is to go into the mist, and inside the mist are unspeakable, unbelievable, life-ending horrors. David and the group of customers hidden inside the store go through all the things anyone would: Shock, confusion, disbelief. But the danger, no matter how bizarre and inconceivable, is real. Tensions mount as time passes. Soon David and a handful of other like-minded survivors begin to realize that it may be just as dangerous inside the store as it is outside it.
More terrifying than the horrifying creatures lurking outside the store are the two-legged beings lurking within it. The Mist is more than just some monster movie, instead it’s a careful examination of human nature. Darabont’s adapted script develops each character carefully, and the film’s real thrills come from following his group of terrified survivors as they fight, fear, and quite simply fall apart in different ways as hope drains away. Some turn to God and fatalism, others turn to logic, still others choose denial and pay for their refusal to face facts. David Drayton however, simply refuses to give up.
Thomas Jane carries the movie as Drayton, an artist turned temporary leader. But it’s not just Jane that turns in a genius performance here. Darabont has assembled an amazing ensemble cast of character actors and unknown, who embody not just their given characters but different aspects of the human spirit. The Mist’s uncanny ability to get us so invested in those character archetypes is what really makes the film so effective. Every death hurts bitterly, every failed attempt at escape gores you straight to the soul. Even the film’s villains are more than two-dimensional characters. You know where they’re coming from. You could be one of these people. You know these people. What would you do if real insanity was unleashed on the world? How would you face not just your death, but the death of everyone you’ve ever cared about?
If there’s any flaw in the film, it’s in some of the specifics of the Darabont’s script which at times, leans towards the predictable. But like everything Darabont does The Mist connects with its audience on such a deeply emotional level that those trifling problems are easily overcome. The film’s monster movie elements are there only to serve as a catalyst for a much deeper, brutally emotive, thought-provoking story. This is a brilliantly smart, character-driven horror film; and it’ll rock you to the core.