Wednesday, March 12, 2008

No Mist Opportunities Here

I first read Stephen King’s The Mist when I was 11, and remember enjoying it tremendously – re-reading it a fortnight ago, I found it slightly less fulfilling, and the film does not improve on the source material (Aside: One of the reasons I have never re-read Dean Koontz’s Lightning, which was my mostest favouritest adult book when I was 10, is for fear of discovering it is actually a pile of pants). The story is a simple one, frequently recycled in horror movies of the past half-century. There’s a massive storm, which brings, in its wake, a mist gravid with all sorts of monsters – from Lovecraftian tentacles to bizarre insectoid monstrosities that would make David Cronenberg blush. A group of townspeople are trapped in a supermarket, some of them start going mental, some don’t, and then shit hits the fan. That’s really all there is to it. Even though the horror outside of the supermarket is outmatched by the horrors within its apparent shelter, the fact remains that the main thrust of the film is horror – it ain’t social commentary, which, albeit ironic, is nonetheless incidental. In more accomplished examples of the genre such as Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, it is subservient to each film’s main purpose, even though the more enthusiastic fan usually (and wrongly) argues otherwise.

One element I found terribly distracting about the film was writer-director Frank Darabont’s decision to use 24-like fast zooms – Joe Wright used a similar technique, to risible results, in Pride and Prejudice. Even though it’s more fitting in a contemporary drama shot with a documentary style, they, nonetheless, bugged the hell out of me in The Mist. Mind you, one can say anything that distracts one’s attention away from the cliché-ridden plot might be regarded as a good thing, but still… Just when you expect the camera to focus on a group of people, stay on them for a minute or two, you get a dizzying zoom, altered in post-production to do away with focusing problems, and your mind immediately wanders away from the action. “What the hell was that,” is the immediate reaction, which is transformed after the third instance into “Here we go again.” It would have been a better idea to keep things out of focus – characters and monsters – letting it all play out in the background. The aisles and the store windows constrict the action anyway, and a sense of visual claustrophobia could have been achieved much more elegantly with a more conventional camerawork.

There are also holes in the narrative that you could drive a fleet of trucks through, and they are apparent in both the novella and the film. After the hero, David Drayton (Thomas Jayne), and a few others, have a close confrontation in the loading dock with some obviously not-from-this-world tentacles, and lose of one of their numbers to the beast, they decide to enlist the help of Andre Braugher’s bellicose out-of-towner Brent Norton. He dismisses the idea that there are monsters out there in the mist, which, I find, is the natural position to adopt when confronted by relatively frequent weather phenomena. However, when they say they have the severed tip of one of the tentacles in the loading bay, he refuses to even go in and take a look, thinking that this is all just a big joke being played on him by the locals. It’s such an arbitrary scene – so obviously a plot device – that it, too, distracts from the actual film. I wanted to shout at the screen, “just kick him the heck out of there,” which, given the film’s tone, is obviously not the intention. Another plot-device-cum-character is the religious zealot Mrs Carmody (delightfully hammed up to the max by Marcia Gay Harden), who starts ranting and raving the minute the mist appears, and who starts gathering followers with each passing moment. There is a nice point here about people succumbing to their deepest fears in times of great crisis, but the apparent dichotomy between Drayton’s positivists and Carmody’s nutcases goes up to eleven, and this lack of subtlety drains the confrontation off its emotional resonance (and timely relevance).

Nonetheless, during its better moments, the film feels like the more competent examples of mainstream horror of the 70’s, and I was reminded of middling, yet enjoyable, fare such as Deathdream, The Other, Burnt Offerings, or even The Nanny (OK, that’s the sixties, but still). It is also unflinching in its inexorable journey towards an unusually dark and disturbing catharsis. In a bizarre way, you can see the love that went into the making of this film, similar to the kind of love Darabont must have poured into The Shawshank Redemption (overrated) and The Green Mile (underrated). It might work better as part of a Friday night DVD double-bill (unless, that is, you have a life).


Anonymous said...

Hey I loved your outakes on the film there, but i could swear I have seen the film before or am I just reminiscing from the book? This is driving me mad!!!!