So, I’m not a horror movie guy. I have a lot of friends who are really into them–my wife is too–but they just don’t generally do it for me. I don’t know if I was just exposed to them too late, if I missed that train, or what. That said, there are things that will pull me in, no matter what. Craft and good character beats are invariably a big draw. There’s one underrated movie that has those in spades: Stephen King’s The Mist.
The Mist is not a typical horror movie in the grand American tradition. An adaptation of a Stephen King book, it’s already on shaky ground (because, let’s face it, who yet has adapted one of his novels 100% successfully?), but in this case, the involvement of Frank Darabont helps a lot. Darabont works well with King’s material because he understands and has experience with it; he was involved with both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
There’s very little preamble to start the film; a storm brings down several trees, damaging houses in the way that storms will. It’s only minutes before the lead characters, David Drayton and Brent Norton, are in the store which comprises the majority of the movie’s setting. The dominoes of Stephen King’s style start falling rapidly after that; a man (Jeffrey DeMunn) comes running in from the lot, screaming about someone disappearing into the mist that’s rolling into town. The titular mist itself is not far behind, and shortly after that we get what is perhaps one of King’s favorite tropes—the religious spinster, in this case played by Marcia Gay Harden. She plays the role fantastically, with equal parts fervor and venom, as she speaks with certain on something that she can’t possibly know.
In fact, fear of the unknown is the chief theme in the film; the mist itself represents obscurity, and through that obscurity, danger. Darabont does that right from the start through economy of storytelling. I think that’s probably why it resonates so well with me; one of the things that turns me off of most horror is the utter lack of subtlety that they often possess. I’m much more involved if a movie takes the time to build its fear; shock tricks don’t work unless they’re used sparingly. Darabont shows his understanding of this throughout, and it’s notable that the few times we do get clear looks at whatever monsters lurk in the mist, they’re never quite as scary as what we don’t see at other times.
What’s interesting to me is that, the first time I saw The Mist, shortly after it came to DVD, I didn’t know who Frank Darabont was. I’d seen some of his movies, but his name had never stuck in my mind. I also didn’t know who most of the cast involved was; I recognized Thomas Jane naturally because he’d only recently had a turn as The Punisher, and Toby Jones is singular enough as an actor that he’s always memorable.
Viewing it again, though, I realize how fond Darabont must be of establishing relationships with actors; the cast of The Mist includes no less than four future Walking Dead cast members: Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Melissa McBride, and Sam Witwer (aka the soldier in the tank during season one). I wonder too if I’m just more cognizant of who these actors are than I was; I also recognized William Sadler immediately due to his turn as President Ellis in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Perhaps the most interesting, however, is Andre Braugher as Brent Norton; having just recently binged on Brooklyn Nine Nine, the sight of Braugher cursing at a chainsaw in his first scene during this film is intensely memorable.
The Mist is often remembered for its utterly depressing, nihilistic ending; out of gas and out of hope, the final four survivors David Drayton and his son included, draw straws to decide who will be in charge of ending all of their lives, on their own terms rather than at the hands of whatever creatures are attacking them. David ends up taking on the task, only for The Mist to break immediately after he kills the other occupants of the vehicle. Military convoys roll through, and we see that the crisis is over—immediately after Drayton has done something he can never take back. It’s an absolutely crushing scene, and it deserves its infamy in every way.
The scene that sticks with me, though, is about halfway through the movie—when the store is compromised. It’s a scene where body horror plays a key element, as extremely large insects break through the plate glass at the front of the market, and one of them stings a cashier. The girl who is stung goes into an extreme case of anaphylactic shock, and without adequate medical supplies on hand, she dies pretty horribly.
The thing is—I’m not afraid of a lot. But, as someone with a bee allergy, I am afraid of anaphylaxis. It’s an utterly terrifying thing to me, because all it takes is one tiny prick, and my world is agony. Seeing that terror writ large on the screen affected me in a way that I can hardly describe; I literally had to pause the movie on this viewing mid-scene to collect myself. It’s the reason that this is only the second time I’ve seen The Mist, and the reason that I remember this movie vividly, despite that. I could go my life never seeing this movie again and still remain profoundly affected by the scene of that poor girl’s death.
That, to me, is what a horror movie should aim for. That’s why The Mist stands out to me.
Today’s post was written by guest writer Pete Pfau. Pete is a writer and collector and you can follow his musings on his twitter.