Far be it from a curmudgeon like me to say this, but I think it's entirely possible that we as horror fans run the risk of occasionally becoming a bit too cynical for our own good. Case in point: Why is it that a movie like Frank Darabont's The Mist, a solid, enjoyable horror flick, has been so roundly pummeled by the online horror community? This morning I'm taking a stand and saying it's damn fine little fright film.
I had caught it a while back on cable and not given it my full attention, mainly due to all the mediocre feedback I had read about it on the web. The main thing that struck me then was Marcia Gay Harden's amazing performance, but other than that, I didn't really watch it closely enough to make an informed decision. But just last night, I had the pleasure of sitting down with my dad, my Obi-Wan Kenobi of horror, to watch it, since he had just purchased the double-disc deluxe edition.
Now, he may have been a horror fan since the days when Vincent Price was a hot new prospect, but even still, Dad and I haven't always agreed (his adoration of Wrong Turn 2, for example). So I was a little skeptical. But nearly two hours later, and I was scratching my head wondering why everyone had been so damn hard on this movie.
I mean, look, it's not anything that's going to change your life. We're not talking something in a category with the likes of [REC], Inside, Drag Me to Hell or Let the Right One In here. But this movie deserves a lot more praise than it got. It's a well made, very well acted horror film, which I'd put on a par with something like 30 Days of Night, another highly enjoyable flick that I felt was far too strongly maligned.
You would think that with the endless barrage of mind-numbing remakes, sequels and garbage aimed at high school moviegoers, that we would be able to better appreciate a decent movie when we got one. Am I lowering my standards? I don't think so. Rather, I think everyone else's may be just a bit too high.
Maybe we expect too much of our movie experiences sometimes, I don't know. Maybe it's the very low expectations I had going into this movie. Whatever the case, I had fun with it. As he has in the past, Darabont has a fine handle on Stephen King's material. Does it pack the emotional punch of something like The Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile? Hell no, but that's a shortcoming of the vast majority of horror movies in general--they are so bound up in evoking fear that they don't have much left for stirring up other emotions (that's a subject for another post). This was Darabont's first crack at a King horror story, and I think he did a fine job.
Thomas Jane, one of the most underrated actors around, is terrific in the lead role, knowing just when to underplay it, and when to turn on the teeth-rattling emotion. I've already praised Harden, but I'll do it again. What's funny is I had just seen her 20 years younger (and infinitely hotter) in Miller's Crossing the night before, so I've kind of been discovering what a killer actress she is this week. There are also impressive supporting performances from Toby Jones (Karl Rove in W.) as a pistol-packing grocer, William "I can be a friend to you" Sadler as an unstable good ol' boy, Frances Sternhagen (a veteran of King's Misery and Golden Years) as a badass schoolmarm, and Brian Libby (a Darabont regular) as a biker with some of the best lines in the movie.
As for the effects, much has been made of the supposedly unconvincing CGI creatures, and I've got to take a stand here as well. There's nothing that annoys me more than bad/lazy CGI. But this isn't it. Does it look 100% real? No. But when did we all become such special effects snobs? Granted, there are a lot of times in film when practical effects would be much more convincing than CGI. But creature effects in particular have always been tough to pull off, since the dawn of cinema.
I mean, as much as we all drool over the work of Ray Harryhausen, Willis O'Brien and the like, are any of us going to say that their creations looked 100% real? Heck, no! Rather, it was their engaging, "pseudo-reality" that endeared them to us--their "cool factor", for lack of a better term. So why, all of a sudden, do we all demand 100% perfect reality from our special effects in this age of CGI? Why have our expectations changed? Maybe it's all the bad CGI out there that has soured us on the practice as a whole. For my money, the creature work in The Mist is highly effective and did NOT commit that one mortal sin of bad effects, which is to take me out of the movie.
The sense of dread is well-represented, as is the social breakdown that occurs within the group--in fact, that element reminded me in parts of Romero at his best. The gore is suitably shocking. And the ending, although different from King's novella, packs a hell of an emotional wallop, thanks largely to Jane. I'll go on the record as saying that the revised ending is one of the things that makes the movie, since so often King's downfall is that he doesn't know how to wrap things up. And although I wasn't a fan of the unnecessary explanation given for the creatures, I did enjoy the Lovecraftian nod, especially that gigantic Cthulhu-like thing that makes a brief cameo.
In short, The Mist is an enjoyable monster movie. It's got Darabont's polish, and King's sinister world view. And considering the batting average of most horror films based on King's work, I think we all need to ease up on it just a bit. It may not be earthshattering or anything, but I could think of far worse ways to spend an average weeknight.
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