The Mist is the kind of movie that is somewhat designed to be polarizing. The adaptation of the 1980 novella from Stephen King had a decent critical showing and didn’t do terribly at the box office considering its relatively low budget. It has managed to gain some significant reappraisal in the last few years, but it still remains kind of buried under its own cult status.
And that is a damn shame. Because The Mist isn’t just a good movie or a good Stephen King adaptation. It’s a stone-cold masterpiece and needs to be recognized as such.
Why The Mist Is So Excellent
The Mist was something of a passion project for writer/producer/director Frank Darabont. The filmmaker had already established himself as a Stephen King aficionado with his adaptations of The Woman in the Room, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile. By the time he had gotten around to The Mist, Darabont was ready for a project that was both a monster movie throwback and channeled the anger he was feeling towards American society around that current time.
Out of that came The Mist, a story about a small community that finds themselves trapped inside their local grocery store when a mysterious fog blankets their entire town. Hiding in the vapor are otherworldly monsters that seem to want nothing more than to kill every human they come across. The humans decide to hole up in the supermarket and try to survive. Along the way, factions begin to develop and fear begins to motivate every decision these people make. And when fear is what you use for your judgment, it often leads to hopelessness, persecution, and self-destruction.
The Mist is a scathing takedown of how zealous fear can be used to manipulate the weaker-minded. Darabont’s script is unflinching in its portrayal of uneducated Americans and how easily they succumb to their basest fears and instincts. Though there are monsters threatening the lives of everyone, the real villain of the film is Mrs. Carmody (a career-best performance by Marcia Gay Harden), a religious fanatic who interprets the situation as an act of God and rallies many of the other townsfolk to her cause.
It is this exploration of human nature that takes The Mist to another level in regards to its monster mania madness. There is a bleak and cynical edge to Darabont’s script that paints humanity as too stupid for its own good. when they should be banding together, fear and distrust drives everyone apart and eventually to horrific fates. There is no question that The Mist is a “feel-bad” movie and it excels at achieving that goal.
But, even within that anguish there are base pleasures to be had. As a monster movie, The Mist deserves far more acclaim than it currently receives. The multitude of beasts we get to see in the film are all wonderfully designed and wild. It is clear that the creature creators had an absolute ball coming up with so many different kinds of critters, and that joy in creation comes through every time one of the devils shows up on screen. Whether its a tentacle attached to an unseen horror or a giant spider crab, the monster of The Mist are some of the best in all of horror film history.
And the humans involved in all these monster shenanigans are equally impressive. There is an argument to be made that The Mist features Thomas Jane’s greatest onscreen performance. The character actor is incredibly endearing as the lead hero, David Drayton. He is always trying to use reason and logic to figure out the best way to tackle a problem, and Jane sells his sensibility with utter sincerity. Laurie Holden is just as compelling as Amanda Dunfrey, another level-headed pragmatist who sees the chaos that they are all about to descend into. There are also delightful turns from character actors like Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, Frances Sternhagen, and Sam Witwer. It’s an all-around killer cast.
But, what most people remember about The Mist is its shocking ending. Normally, we aren’t too spoiler averse here at Giant Freakin Robot, but because this ending is so impacting and harsh, we will throw up a SPOILER WARNING for the next few paragraphs.
At the end of The Mist, David and his eight-year-old son Billy have decided to leave the grocery store along with a few other survivors. As they make their way across the state, they see that the fog has consumed everything and it seems like there are no other survivors. They even see a gargantuan creature walking over them, seeming to signal the end of humanity as the dominant species on the planet. As they run out of gas, they believe another monster is coming for them, and David decides to kill them all to save them from a horrible fate as food or breeding material for the monsters. David only has enough bullets for everyone except one person in the car, so he shoots everyone else (including his own son) and then walks out to be killed by the monsters.
And it is in this moment that a tank comes out of the mist. The cavalry has arrived and the situation is under control. David’s decision to finally succumb to fear and hopelessness is punished with the realization that they all could have been fine if they hadn’t given up. To drive this point home, a woman who left the store when the mist first descended (Melissa McBride) appears on one of the military rescue vehicles. When she had asked anyone to leave with her to go find her children, everyone silently refused to help her. And now, she is living proof that striving for hope and helping each other would lead to things turning out alright.
To call the ending of The Mist devastating is an understatement. It is one of the most cruel endings in any genre film. It uses that cruelty to drive home a message against pessimism but it still punches so hard that it pierces your gut. The original ending of the novella is much more open-ended and eerie, but Darabont went for the jugular and crafted an ending that continues to define the film’s legacy.
Why This Stephen King Classic Is Unfairly Overlooked
And that could be part of the reason why The Mist is unfairly overlooked. It is not an easy watch through most of its running time, and the ending only colors the entire experience as an absolute downer. In fact, it is fair to argue that the ending overshadows the rest of what’s so great about the film. It is that powerful and decisive of a climax.
The Mist might also get overlooked because the filmmaking was produced by a very small television crew that Darabont had worked with on the show The Shield. It’s not that the filmmaking is ever bad, but it often feels like a modern-day television episode instead of an enormous feature film. Thankfully, Darabont released an alternate version of the film in black & white – which he says he wanted to shoot the movie in but the studio refused – that adds another level of filmmaking gloss to the film. If you only see one version of The Mist, the black & white one is the way to go. You’ll miss some of the cool colors on the monsters, but that visual choice plays so well with the bleak nature of the film.
The Mist is not a movie you can recommend to everyone because it is so mean, but those who can stomach it are likely to walk away with one of the most memorable monster movie experiences they have ever had.