This is a weird review. I was hesitant to write it, because I’ve only managed to produce three other movie reviews so far and I hoped that I’d make it through most of my “essential” films before talking about anything as inconsequential as 2007’s The Mist. But I’ve literally been planning to see this since 2007, and now that I finally have I find that it’s discussion-worthy, particularly based on the actual discussion I had with my wife immediately afterwards. I’ll keep this review short and to-the-point.
So, we have Frank Darabont’s third outing with Stephen King material after Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. I like Frank Darabont. It would have been enough that he directed my favorite film of all time, but he later brought Walking Dead to the TV screen and gave it the gravity and sure hand it deserved (before being unceremoniously dropped due to ridiculous budget constraints, but I digress). The Mist received better reviews than most expected based on the film’s marketing, and attention was immediately focused on the controversial ending. You can’t have a conversation about The Mist without discussing it. I won’t dwell on it too much here, but I will say I understand completely why it is so divisive.
For the uninitiated, the story goes: A big thunderstorm sweeps through a small town in Maine (hi, Stephen King), resulting in a massive power outage. The main character and his young boy make their way to the local supermarket to pick up supplies, when a mysterious shroud of mist rolls in with no visible end. They very quickly discover that the mist conceals deadly creatures of some sort, as everyone who ventures out dies violently within seconds. Stranded inside the store with no power and no cell phone reception somehow, the townsfolk quickly begin to fall apart from fear and several attempts to escape or find rescue are met with gruesome results.
Factions develop around our main character, representing relative level-headedness and reason, and a local religious zealot who is so grating you wish her a violent death immediately. I reveal no bias in saying that. She is presented as a dangerous and evil-hearted extremist who advocates human sacrifice in order to appease a wrathful God. Initially rebuffed by everyone, the zealot quickly starts to gain influence as peoples’ psyches break down with intense fear and they desperately seek out answers.
It’s roundly agreed that The Mist’s greatest achievement is in the way it takes the focus off the monsters and onto the way individuals in a micro-society behave in such an incomprehensibly extreme scenario (much like Walking Dead). That plot point is more interesting than the more immediate danger, and draws attention away from the somewhat dodgy CGI the monsters are made of. My wife found most of the human behavior to be unrealistic and exaggerated, but I found it fairly plausible. The primary antagonist (besides the monsters) may not get the comeuppance she deserves depending on how you look at it. But the best thing I can say about The Mist is that it’s unpredictable. I’ve been growing more and more weary with Hollywood churning out material so uncreative the entire plot can be guessed based on the title alone. Plot twists that can be predicted before the opening credits are through. Remakes and reboots and reimaginings. I’m sick of feeling like I could write a better story than the professionals do. The Mist kept me guessing, all the way until….. (highlight between the bookends to read the spoiler text)
[spoiler begins] So here’s the infamous ending: The main character, his son, and a small group of loyal survivors decide that there may be no rescue coming, and their grocery store fort is rapidly becoming compromised, so they decide to make a run for it. Five people manage to make it to the main character’s Jeep and begin to drive, hoping to find an end to the mist. As they make their way through the countryside, it never lets up. They see only carnage and unspeakably horrifying roaming beasts, but no other survivors. Eventually the gas runs out and the four adults come to terms with the hopelessness of their situation. With four rounds left in his revolver, the main character agrees to spare his son and the three passengers a gruesome death and shoots them all, then exits the vehicle to face his own death. Moments later, a military convoy appears through the mist, clearing away the beasts and transporting other survivors as the fog begins to blow off. The end. My jaw dropped when I saw this. Having prior knowledge only that the ending of the movie was bleak, I simply assumed that everyone dies, but the actual ending managed to be even more bleak. It’s an absolute gut-punch. [spoiler ends]
Becky considered the ending an appropriately awful endcap to an awful film, but I disagreed. While I probably will never watch it again, I did think it had plenty going for it. I found it unpredictable and suspenseful (she disagreed), and the directing and cinematography was great. Camera work was grainy with plenty of handheld shots that gave it a documentary feel, and the acting was roundly solid. I’m glad I saw this after Walking Dead because I noticed three actors from that show, as well as three from Shawshank Redemption. I would recommend watching it once, but be prepared for an absolute BUMMER of an ending. You may want to queue up a lighthearted comedy to cleanse your palette afterwards.