One of the big things that CGI has never been able to quite get right are tentacles. They always look less flesh like and more like stretchy rubbery tings. The tentacles in Stephen King’s The Mist, lovingly adapted and directed by Frank Darabont from the Steven King novella, still don’t make the grade, but it’s not the monsters we’re wait for to attack in this keen study of human behavior under great amounts of stress – the stress being the end of mankind coming in the form of a mist. So it doesn’t matter that at times we have a quick flash back to a 1950′s monster movie. That isn’t to say that some of the monsters won’t creep the heck out of you, there’s a moment that reminded me of the stomach bursting scene in Alien and Aliens, where a man is hung against a wall, only an alien doesn’t burst out of him. Truly gooey creepy fun that still makes my spine tingle. Darabont finds the balance between human fighting and monster attacks, allowing for the monster attacks to amp up the tension in the general store that these civilians find themselves unlucky enough to be trapped in until things almost explode – at least they have food, right?
A couple years ago Steven Spielberg and David Koepp tried to capture the small regular man story amidst an alien invasion in War of the Worlds. The idea was to see this terrible event through the eyes of a regular man and not from the perspective of the military or the scientists. It was not supposed to be an event movie they proclaimed. Can you hear me guffawing. It didn’t really work all that well. The spectacle was too big, too much, the human story was clunky and Spielberg was falling back on old tricks (the aliens in the basement scene could easily have been raptors – yawn!). The best scene in that film occurred when mobs of people bum rushed Cruise’s minivan with his daughter still inside. It was frightening watching humans react in such a way, willing to hurt whatever is in their way to save themselves. Well, The Mist captures that feeling throughout pretty much the whole film.
Thomas Jane plays David Drayton, a movie poster artist whose home, in Castle Rock, and unfinished art (a movie poster for “The Gunslinger” all of you King fans!) is trampled by a giant tree the night of a terrible storm. That tree happens to have been uprooted from the soil of his unlikeable neighbor Brent Norton, whom is brought to cranky life by Andre Braugher. The two manage to find common ground just long enough for Drayton to give Norton a ride into town, with Drayton’s son in tow. Nathan Gamble, who plays the son Billy Drayton, is a wonderful child actor who I cast my vote to play the boy in Cormac McCarthy’s adaptation of “The Road”. Other notable performances include Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones and William Sadler as other trapped patrons. The great thing about the opening scenes between Drayton and Norton, is that you can feel the essence of Stephen King. This isn’t how movie people talk, this is how King’s characters talk, Jane and Brugher give us all the dips and rises and innuendo and complexity to their lines that King fans deserve. It’s like you’re reading the book on the screen. Thank you Darabont! Sadly the only thing keeping this script from being nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar is the fact that it is a monster movie. Unfair, I say! Especially since this film handles the anxiety of post 9/11 anxiety better than any of the more “serious” and literal films out there this year, it even does it better than War of the Worlds, that dumbly stuck to very literal representations of the attack on the Twin Towers (clothes falling out of the sky – come on…)
What’s out there attacking us? Are we to blame? If not, then who’s responsible, God? Or is this God’s vengeance? Questions that have driven half of America mad at one point or another, so much so that I’ve seen the hateful effects between people outside of the movies. While working at a Barnes and Noble, two weeks after 9/11, one of the customers suddenly began screaming and berating an employee that looked like a Muslim. One that I knew quite well. One that would never hurt a fly, whose thin and almost frail posture was so unassuming she could have gone through life unnoticed, but here was this woman in her 50′s acting out upon her pent up rage. If they had been put in a room together, if social restraints from being in a public place hadn’t been involved, blood would have been drawn. Darabot isn’t delving into fiction here, he’s showing us reality.
The only point in the film that left me feeling down was in it’s final moments, if only for the fact that I have a little more faith in humanity. Even so it’s a devastating moment one in which we recall Drayton telling a woman who is going to brave the mist alone to find her kids, that he has his own son to worry about. Chilling in retrospect, if not a little too self serious in the viewing, and that may be because suddenly and without realizing it there’s a musical score trampling the film, something that went unnoticed by me through the first 9/10 of it.
Tags: 9/11 influenced films, Frank Darabont, Horror Movies, Marcia Gay Harden, Monster Movie, Oscar Watch, Stephen King, Stephen King movie adaptation, Stephen King's The Mist, Thomas Jane, Toby Jones, William Saddler