Monday, 14 May 2012

The Mist (2007)

Dir. Frank Darabont
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher

I have never read anything by Stephen King. I think I was put off him because of a film I watched when much younger that was not only based on one of his novels but also directed by King himself. The film was called Maximum Overdrive. In it there are strange meteorological phenomena. As a result all electrical items come to life. The film focuses on a raggle-taggle bunch of survivors holed up inside a gas station while outside they are stalked by sentient trucks. It was terrible.

But then I saw some films that were based on his novels that I did like. Misery for example. Or the perennial classic The Shawshank Redemption. So I began to think that maybe I had just seen a really duff example, and King was better than I had long given him credit for.

So today I watched another film based on a novel by Stephen King. The film was called The Mist. In it there are strange meteorological phenomena. The film focuses on a raggle-taggle bunch of survivors holed up inside a supermarket while outside they are stalked by a variety of monsters. It is terrible. Maybe my initial views on Stephen King were the correct ones…

So there seems to be a divide between Stephen King the chronicler of human existence, as in Misery and Shawshank and Stephen King the ‘author, dream-weaver, visionary, plus actor’ a la Garth Marenghi. And in fact the plot of Maximum Overdrive or The Mist would not have been out of place in an episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. In Maximum Overdrive it is a strange green comet that gives electrical and mechanical items – from electric carving knives to HGV’s with unusual clown faces – an insane lust for human blood. In The Mist it turns out that it is all down to military scientists punching a hole to another dimension, one populated by horrific semi-prehistoric looking creatures that can survive in earth’s atmosphere and on human flesh. Oh those military scientists and their top-secret projects, when will they learn? And why does Congress never exercise any proper oversight over their work (“An appropriation bill for $8.9 million to research piercing the veil between dimensions you say? Sounds reasonable to me!”)

Anyway, there is a storm that fells trees and knocks out the power and the telephone lines. A strange mist is seen rolling down from the hills. Artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) takes his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) into town to pick up some groceries. The supermarket is full when a bleeding Dan (Jeffrey DeMunn) runs in, screaming that he was attacked by something lurking in the mist. By now the mist (not The Fog – that’s a different film) has encroached right up around the building. The crowds decide to hunker down and wait for ideas. They soon become aware that there really is something malevolent out there in the mist when giant tentacles grab one of their number and drag him out of the loading bay (though I can understand the scepticism of Andre Braugher’s Brent; it is one thing to say that there is a creature out there in the fog, but it is hard to keep a straight face whenever the word “tentacles” creeps into conversation). Those who try to make it out into the mist vanish, bloodily. More horrific creatures are seen. Perhaps most horrific of all is a human, Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a religious nutjob, who reinvents herself as a prophet of the end times and manages to turn the majority of the crowd into a murderous cult seeking “expiation” (“Welcome to Sesame Street, kids” assistant supermarket manager Ollie drolly comments; “Today’s word is ‘expiation’).

There's something in the mist!
Sadly for Toby Jones, it's a crap film...

 Let’s focus on the strengths of the film. The special effects are great. When the bugs and four-winged pterodactyl-things break into the store the action is seamless. Mrs Carmody is a horrible villain. And Toby Jones is great as Ollie, the meek assistant manager with a hidden inner hero. He turns out to secretly be a crack marksman, have an inner steel that allows him to make big decisions (he soon overshadows the store manager), and he also monopolises the best lines in the script (“Fine, write down your names. And in the mean time shut the fuck up and listen”).

Negatives? Well, it’s a load of old bollocks really isn’t it? Thomas Jane is rather bland as the leading man. He doesn’t seem particularly concerned that he has a wife back home out in the mist. And what is the survivors’ goal? I suppose with an unknown threat the goals have also to be unknown. Compare this with 30 Days of Night. In that film the threat is a known quantity: vampires. What is a vampire’s weakness? The sun. What’s the twist? The sun won’t rise for thirty days. So what’s the goal? Hold out for thirty days until the sun comes out again. In The Mist the threat is unknown, and so the weakness of the threat is also unknown. As a result the goal is unknown. All they can do is survive as long as they can. They have no way of eradicating the threat. By default the heroes are reduced to passivity, waiting there for the monsters to pick them off. Sure, they may have small victories to win – beat off the tentacles, kill the flying things, get the medicine – but they are not in control of the situation. Any salvation has to come from external forces. Deus ex machine as Mrs Carmody would no doubt have it. This does not make for great suspense. And the lack of a soundtrack for the vast majority of the film does not help. I admit that sometimes I get annoyed with the score for soundtracking what I am supposed to be feeling (tension / relief / dread etc). But here there is nothing. The film has gore but very little suspense.

But I refuse to blame the director too much. Frank Darabont also helmed The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, both successful stories based on King’s novels. The cast too are generally fine with the genre – it seems that half of them went on to star in the TV series The Walking Dead (Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Melissa McBride); Darabont also directed and produced a number of episodes of the series. The problem is the source material. Frankly I think I’m going to leave it a while before I take another chance on a Stephen King horror movie.

What have I learnt about Maine?
Not much is said about Maine in the film. Really all that I can pick up on is that there is a tension between locals and out-of-towners. Wealthy individuals move to Maine to get away from the city. This can be either permanently relocating or just having a summer house / weekend getaway. The locals don’t seem to like these out-of-towners much.

The inhabitants do not seem as gun crazy as in other parts of the U.S. Only one local has a gun, which he keeps in his truck. New-in-town teacher Amanda keeps a handgun in her handbag at the insistence of her husband. Wallet, phone, keys, tissues, handgun etc…

Can we go there?
The film is nominally set in Bridgton, Maine, inland to the north-west of Portland. The wrecked road sign seen towards the end of the film places that moment somewhere near Falmouth.

However, in reality we haven’t travelled very far from Louisiana at all. In fact we are still there. The film was shot on set in Shreveport, Louisiana. Exterior shots of the store were Tom’s Market in Vivian, just north of Shreveport.

Overall Rating: 1/5

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