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Movie Reviews

The Mist



Reviewer: James Clewes

Directed by: Frank Darabont

Stars: Thomas Jayne, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones and Laurie Holden.

Released: 4th July 2008 (UK)

Certificate: 15

Frank Darabont’s third Stephen King adaptation, following the superlative, incarceration-themed ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘The Green Mile’, shows a genre switch but a similar trapped situation for its characters. This effective creepy-crawly horror displays Darabont’s love for King’s extensive body of work, whilst still willing to alter the material in order to improve the story.

The narrative centres on Thomas Jayne’s “everyman” father, David Drayton, and his eight-year old son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), as they travel to their local supermarket, in a New England suburb, to buy supplies following a destructive thunderstorm. After a well-handled, but perfunctory, bit of character development, the eponymous mist begins to move in. The store’s occupants find themselves trapped inside a glass-fronted building as unknown perils attempt to make their way in. Darabont cranks up the terror slowly as he introduces the itch-inducing, oversized insects to the increasingly hysterical detainees; however, there’s as much danger from the people within as from the creatures outside.

Darabont’s masterstroke comes from his casting: Jayne is solid in the central role and Gamble is successful at not being irritating in a role that mostly involves crying and being scared. The real standouts are Marcia Gay Harden as an Old Testament-wielding Bible freak and the perennially excellent Toby Jones, cast against type, as a badass, crack shot store assistant. Andre Braugher, Sam Witwer, Laurie Holden and Alexa Davalos all give strong performances, even more impressively each being given their own narrative arcs, forcing you to care as they face unrelenting perils. These tangible characters display the different heightened emotions you might find in such a melodramatic situation. Another supporting standout is William Sadler’s gruff mechanic, who easily transitions from sceptic to helpful bystander and finally a broken, God-grovelling hysteric within the film’s only slightly overlong running time. Fans of Darabont’s more recent work, the superb horror adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s long-running zombie comic book series, ‘The Walking Dead’, may notice some familiar faces in Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn, to which the tone of the film is similar; a fraught, fantastical idea handled in a serious manner. Harden and Jones really do steal the show, though, cranking up the melodrama and grounding the content, respectively.

Another of the film’s assets is its reluctance to give away too many details; the cause and effects are quite literally enshrouded by the dense mist. Witwer’s young army officer does provide a weak pseudo-explanation for why things might be happening, which is probably best ignored. In addition, the creature designs are eerily plausible, making it hard to look at certain garden insects without suspicion. However, there is a feeling of déjà vu to the bugs if you’ve already seen Peter Jackson’s ‘King Kong’ remake. Some of the creature effects are unconvincingly cheap, due to the low-budget, and diminishes their fear factor but on the special edition DVD of the film there is a black and white version, which helps to rectify these issues; the feeling is the studio probably pushed for a colour version over the monochrome. The film’s biggest flaw is probably the speed and ease with which the Regular Joes occupying the store are converted by the maniacal mindset of Harden’s unforgiving preacher. Hopefully the human condition isn’t quite as bad as Darabont imagines. Hopefully.

The film’s kinetic, but perfectly framed, camerawork is a testament to the fast-paced nature of the shoot and really adds to the tension. Whilst those looking for excessive gore or black comedy will be disappointed, this well-handled King adaptation should please audiences beyond King and creature feature fans. The finale differs from the novel but King has admitted he wished he’d thought of Darabont’s alternative himself; it may leave some feeling somewhat hollow but most will be left gasping for breath. Such an intelligent horror film with such well-drawn characters deserves recognition and, whilst the film is not perfect, it should resonate with audiences far beyond the average slasher flick.

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