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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In Defense of THE MIST

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.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I also enjoyed this movie too. It's not the best I've ever seen, but by no far, it's not the worst either. It was the ending of this movie that really got me!

Vigor Mortis said...

I have to say that my biggest problem with the movie is a philosophical one: it is moralist and .. er, evil.. but not in a good way.
If you look at it, the story seems to have Marcia Gay Harden as a villain, but the movie states the opposite by confirming all the things her characters says.
This ridiculously religious moral view of hers is the view of the film. It might not be Darabont's intention, but it comes out that way.

Court said...

Fantastic review! I completely agree with you 100%. I love the original story, and I thought Darabont really did it justice. The new ending was heartbreaking and terrible, but it was amazing.

I saw this movie in the theater, but I didn't see the end properly until dvd, because some moron got a phone call right in the scene where they're all in the car. The entire theater practically rose up as one to kill him, and he had no idea why. I will never forget that.

gord said...

I always thought that the ending (the book's is infinitely better) was contrived and a real groan inducer, but other than that, it was decent.

Stuart Conover said...

I couldn't agree with you more on this. I was actually a bit shocked by all the disappointment felt on this movie since the group of friends that I went with were all happy with how the movie turned out.

From our hatred of Mrs. Carmody (to the applause at her last scene) to the very end of th emovie we all had a good time. The pacing was quick enough to keep you entertained but not too quick to overlook both plot and character development. The acting was perfect all around (Even though Marcia Harden really did steal every scene she was in as Mrs. Carmody.)

Overall, just a good movie. (As you said not one of the genre defining greats but worth a watch for enjoyment's sake.)

Unknown said...

I haven't seen it yet but my thought has always been, if I enjoy it, that makes it a good movie. This one sounds enjoyable.

Ryan Coddington said...

I'm glad to see someone else defending this movie. I was put off by it initially due to my sister stating she absolutely hated it, and seeing other people's reactions. So I didn't catch it until it hit DVD. But I still stand by this flick, as a great horror movie. As stated above, I think the biggest factor contributing to many people's distaste was the ending. Yet I feel that was one of its strongest parts. Great review.

B-Sol said...

The new ending is, indeed, one of the strongest things about the movie, in my opinion. A crushing downer? Yes, but does this make it bad?? I can be a real softy at times, but I was super impressed at the nerve it took to pull of this ending.

FakeShemp said...

alright, time for King apologist and sometimes Darabont fan to speak.

I love the story. All time top ten King. The movie does it's best to capture said story and often does, if not a tad flat. A problem I blame on Darabont is the stageyness of it. I understand most of it takes place in one setting, but it was never really cinematic for me (Hard Candy, a movie where 2 people sit in a apartment and talk, is infinitley more cinematic).

For the people bitching about the cgi, I was one. BUT not because it was bad, but unnecessary most of the time. Frank shows too much. There needed to less. Lets remember that you don't even see the shark in Jaws FOREVER and it rackets up suspense like a expletive deleted. Leave me a bit to the imagination.

The ending, I despise. I don't wanna know. That's the glory of Kings original novella. End it in the parking lot (which I believe was a TAD darker scene) and let me wonder. It doesn't help that the person I saw it with leaned over to me and said (SPOILER)

"It would be hilarious for the mist to roll away and everything is back to normal"

2 seconds before it happened. It's nice to see a studio be willing to release a ending with those consequences in this day and age. That's the part I didn't need. Let him do his deed and then fade to expletive deleted already!!! Don't say HA HA really loudly.

That said, I do enjoy the movie, but I find it's flaws very upsetting to my love of the story and it's interpretation.

I also did not enjoy Darabont's The Green Mile. Like Shawshank, it absolutely faithful to a great story. Unlike Shawshank, it doesn't all need to be there. King's story works wonderfully as a novel. The thing about adapting a book to the screen, is knowing how to make it work in 24 frames a second. Not everything that works in the novel is gonna work in this new format. Lose the bookendings of the film (something that works gangbusters in the novel) and you may approach a movie that works. But with those on each end (and some in the middle? I don't remember), the movie becomes long and drawn out.

Unlike The Mist, I don't enjoy Green Mile at all and thinks it's a mess of a film.

FakeShemp said...

oh, and don't get me started by the worst use of score possibly in cinema history.

Anonymous said...

I loved THE MIST (both as a novella & a movie). It was a good old-fashioned "Monster Movie", of which we need more. I suspect the reason it was trounced by many critics is that is failed to satisfy their specific expectations --not enough blood/guts for the gorehounds perhaps? I also suspect that it failed because far too many movie-goes have such a limited attention span & unless there is continuous action (see TRANSFORMERS) they fail to grasp any of the films more subtle & introspective drama.

I enjoyed the new ending (though I would have liked to have seen more time pass between Jane's mercy killings & the final revelation). It was one of those endings that (like WATCHMEN) played better in a modern film than when the original story was written. It added much more emotional impact.

I will continue to defend this film (as well as Mr. King's STORM OF THE CENTURY) as I would gladly shell out the money to more like them.

Mr. Chris said...

King said during a press screening:

"Frank wrote a new ending that I loved. It is the most shocking ending ever and there should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last 5 minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead."

If the ending is good enough for the author, who are we to argue with him?

To address another post about the moral view of the film, I think it is a good example of "He helps those who help themselves." Praying in the back of the store is not helping yourself. The woman that took off in the beginning and survived... SHE helped herself and her children.

Ms. Carmody IS the human villain in the film. I mean, she wanted to sacrifice a child! She was just as bad (I actually think worse) as the monsters.

Her view was not the view of the film, it was a comment on blind faith and devotion and how dangerous not thinking for yourself or having self preservation instincts can get you killed.

Steve Ring said...

I didn't think the ending was all that stupendous. I mean, the little kid died in Cujo, too, so what's the big deal? I would have gone somewhere else with the end, though the giant creature was nifty and the army coming in wasn't a problem. And if he'd had the freedom to cut the clumsy instant cult stuff out (and he did admirably well with it), just think of all the neat stuff that could have filled that part of the movie out.

It was a good movie but it's hard to make a great movie with Stephen King looking over your shoulder.

Frank White said...

I'd say King liking the new ending counts against it. I've never been a fan of his endings (for long fiction at least). Climactic explosions are far too common.

He should really be relegated to writing short stories and movie premises.

Johnny said...

I LOVE The Mist and i'm glad some people out there agree with me. I always have a great time watching that movie and it almost feels like i'm right there in the supermarket with those characters. Have you watched it in black and white? I think I actually prefer it that way and it comes off as essentially a whole different experience. Not to mention, the CGI looks a lot better in B & W.


Nuff said.

B-Sol said...

I have heard about that black&white thing, haven't tried. And I will play devil's advocate for a second and say that it is a bit odd how the creature spares Miss Carmody like that--almost does make it seem like her crazy rants are correct. Just for split-second, anyway.

DLR said...

My main complaint was with the creature design (Bernie Wrightson had something to do with it, if memory serves)... many of the bugs looked cartoony, whereas most of the bugs in your garden are scary as hell when you look at them with a microscope (try it some time). When they stayed in the mist, it was terrific.

FakeShemp said...

Dearest Mr. Chris, just because a author of something says something doesn't mean it's true. King didn't write the ending of the film, so there for has no say on how it effects his novella, which in and of itself is a completely different medium. Unlike Lucas (who I know is your go to guy in this argument, which is wrong also), King didn't go back and change his art. So it stands, and it is subjective. He may, I don't have too. Plus, mu biggest beef isn't the bleak ending, it's the fact that it's the fact that this almost engrossing movie comes down to what is basically a one liner. A bleak one liner, but still obviously a in your face moment. Had it ended 2 seconds earlier after it's supposed bleak ending, I think it would have worked.

FakeShemp said...

DLR or DRL or whatever: "When they stayed in the mist, it was terrific."

Yes. They showed too much. To me it's not about the cartoony.

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks for giving a shout-out to a great movie - one that in almost every regard exceeded my high expectations.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this film as well and felt that it was intelligently written, scary and actually took the time to develop characters that you grew to care about so that when bad things started happening to them you actually gave a crap about their respective fates... something that can't be said about a lot of horror films nowadays which seem to feature cardboard cut-out characterization and weak scripts (I'm thinking mostly of Michael Bay-produced remakes).

I also thought that the use of hand-held camerawork was a nice touch and gave the film an edgy intensity and you-are-there kind of feel. I'm glad you singled out Thomas Jane. He is quite underrated and very, very good in this film. I really felt for him at the end. What a punch-to-the-gut ending.

Stuart Conover said...

Now I haven't read it... in the novel does Mrs. Carmody also say the common King mantra- "My life for you"

Unknown said...

That huge creature at the end they see creeps me out.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to love this movie, I really did. I'm a huge fan of director Frank Darabont, and The Shawshank Redemption (1994) ranks as one of my all-time favorite films. Unfortunately The Mist misses the mark; it works as neither an all-out giant monster movie, nor is it a convincing suspense drama. Two film styles are in conflict here and because Darabont never does make up his mind which one he is selling, both fail.

Case in point, the overtly melodramatic score used towards the end; beautiful, haunting, but entirely out of place. The music belongs in a Holocaust picture. I couldn't help thinking, "where's Schindler?"

There are moments of genuine tension, and the special effects are fantastic, but none of this is enough to carry off the whole movie, no matter how well executed. The drama is over-dramatic, and comes off as silly, not riveting or convincing. This would have been great in a giant monster movie; for that I say go all out. In that case over-the-top works and The Mist could have been that movie. Instead, Darabont punctuates the action with sequences of melodrama trying to bring it back to a "serious" film. It doesn't work.

The best horror tales often reveal something about human nature and King's classic story is no different. In it he shows us that the real horror is not what lies waiting in the mist, but rather 'the group' when it's out of control. Think Lord of the Flies -- Golding would agree that under the right conditions we are only ever one step away from our most primal selves. In the novella, King is quite good at getting this across without preaching it. In the film however, Darabont forgoes subtlety to the point of taking the theme and hitting us over the head with it. He wants to make sure we get it; characters are saying things like "Scare people badly enough, you’ll get ’em to do anything". Just in case we couldn't figure it out from the unfolding action.

And that ending???? No way, man. Just couldn't buy it.

Steve Ring said...

Darabont did a great job but the story itself uses the tired old saw of society pulling apart at the seams being as much of a threat as the monster menace, making the monster menace seem trivial and obligatory. We've all seen The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. Can't we leave a good idea stand on it's own? Romero has such a dim view of society that he assumes that slow staggering mindless zombies would overrun the earth in a matter of weeks because people are innately homicidal or something. I think it would never happen, myself. Not only do I give humanity more credit than that but history proves that humans have repeatedly overcome mind-bendingly horrendous conditions to get where we are now. So when I see that scenario playing out in a movie in such a compulsory way (and I know it's in the story.-I read it probably twenty years before the movie came out) my patience is being sorely tested. Darabont did his best to rehash the Stephen King instant-psychocult thing convincingly but if he hadn't been confined to it I think he could have made a more interesting movie.

And the monster effects were pretty good considering how inconceivable these other-dimensional creatures are supposed to appear. I think the original story had the spiders with fourteen legs. And Darabont didn't have a James Cameron sized budget to work with.

kindertrauma said...

The Mist is a great movie.

Wether you loved the ending or hated it, you had to feel something about it, a rare thing in an age of disposable cinema.

B-Sol said...

Steve, I wish I had your optimistic outlook on humanity. I'm not as negative as Romero...but I'm closer to him than to you :-) I understand your weariness on the repetition of certain themes, but let's face it, these are the big themes that artists and creators have been struggling with since forever...

Steve Ring said...

I can dig it but the species that crossed the icy land-bridge in prehistoric times isn't going to be snuffed out by slow moving mindless zombies. We are far too cunning. We survived sabre-toothed cats for crying out loud!

Steve Ring said...

I still love Dawn of the Dead. :D

Like you say, though, it's just sort of a feature of the genre. People behaving badly ramps up the tension.

B-Sol said...

This is off on a tangent, but see, the thing is, I don't believe that the human race we are now a part of is the same human race that crossed those ice bridges and all that 30,000 years ago or what have you... Sad, but I suppose I'm a glass half-empty kinda guy.

Sam Charles Norton said...

I thought it was an excellent film spoiled by the ending - not because the ending was bleak (lots of great films have bleak endings) but because it represented a sudden change in characterisation that was not justified. If the Thomas Jane character had been shown wrestling with doubts etc then it would have been believable; in fact the opposite happened, and so the ending felt implausible, gratuitous and clumsy. There is just no way that a father would do that unless they were already mentally deficient in some way - and that is what the film failed to show.

I'll value the film now for various excellent parts, especially the Harden character, but as a whole 'work' I have to judge it a failure, purely because of the ending.

Nick said...

I have nothing against the film except the ending, which is a nihilistic, mean-spirited trick to play on the audience and happily throws well-established character to the wind to do it. And King liking it is no guarantee of quality... I could read him all day but if I read, watched and listened to his recommendations all day I'd go insane sooner rather than later.

Up to the end I think it works pretty well - effects are cheesy here and there, no problem. Way too heavy on the religious nut angle, forgiveable. Good fun, moves fast, evokes dread well enough. The giant creature near the end is magnificent. The ending is hateful. The indeterminacy of the original end fits so well because it's, well, misty. Changing it at all was a bad idea, but changing it as Darabont did was clumsy and ugly in equal part.

But it's symptomatic of the age, I suppose. Or perhaps symptomatic of my age. I might add that I have no problem at all with Kubrick butchering King's work, so sanctity of the source material isn't a concern here...

Karl Hungus said...

Honestly, I loved The Mist. It's a title I've been meaning to pick up on Bluray at some stage. Not sure about the bad vibes it got, it certainly deserved better from audiences.

Justin B. said...

I LOVE The Mist & consider it one of the best horror movies to come out this century. I don't understand the horror community's dislike of it, especially considering the the rest of the online film community seems to dig it.

If you've got access to that 2-disc edition, then I highly recommend watching the Black & White version of the film on Disc 2. Darabont had originally conceived the film as a black & white film, but the studio would have none of it. So Frank went back and converted the film to black and white as he'd originally envisioned. It's a slight change that makes a huge difference in the mood of the piece. It turns a really good horror film into something that borders on being damn near classic.

Now what's this about you not liking Wrong Turn 2?

John W. Morehead said...

Thanks for letting us know about this post again through the LOTTD Pick a Post Sensation. I agree that this is a very good horror film. For me the circumstances of human isolation in the face of a grave but largely unknown threat, coupled with various forms of extremism are the interesting elements. The dialogue about religion and politics as civilizing elements that control the human beast best symbolize this. This is one of the horror films that include elements of social commentary making it a valuable contribution to the genre.

Anonymous said...

I just saw the mist on cable and had to comment. Sorry to say but contrary to the fans of the movie, I have to disagree. I can understand the support but I'm coming not as a fan of the genre, Darabont or Steven King. I watched because it was filmed in my home state and I was curious.

15 minutes into the film and the only thing that kept me watching was to see just how bad of a movie it was going to be and it didn't disappoint. It hit rock bottom in the last minute of the film. I was curious to see who was responsible for directing something like this. Illogical actions by characters and a completely nihilistic and despairing ending which made me think the movie was commenting on the signs of the times we live in which was dreadfully over-done. Not many surprises throughout.

I've seen better directing on tv episodes of Fringe.

But...the giant creature at the end was pretty awesome though.

The Man-Cave said...

Well I heard nothing but negative info on this film, so I put it off for a long, long time. When I finally caved in and watched it, I was satisfied and was not nearly as bad as it was made out to be. Sure there were some bad moments in the art of acting and other minor flaws, but overall I liked it. The ending can hold many meanings and I took my own away from it. Again, not my favorite movie but not as horrible as some have claimed.

Best moment was the pharmacy.

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