Directed by Frank Darabont, adapted from Stephen King (novella)
Released in 2007
The Mist is, at its most basic, a monster movie adapted from Stephen King’s novella of the same name. Director Frank Darabont has established a strong reputation for his adaptations of King’s work, having previously filmed “The Shawshank Redemption” and The Green Mile to critical acclaim. In The Mist, a mysterious event opens the town up to an otherworldly intrusion from what is strongly suggested to be another dimension. The mist appears to be streaming from a military complex situated some distance away from the lake town of Bridgton in Maine. The film begins the morning after an unusually strong electrical storm knocks out all power and communication (including mobile phones) in the town. Before it arrives, the artist David Drayton, (Thomas Jane), accompanied by his five year old son Billy (Nathan Gamble) and his neighbour Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), drive to the supermarket in town to replenish their supplies. As the weather worsens the sense of unease grows until several events confirm that there is something amiss, and that the incoming mist might harbour unknown, violent presences. Trapped in the store by the horrifying dangers hidden in the mist, the townspeople are forced to find ways to cope with what is both outside and inside. The supermarket functions as the main setting of the film and works as a crucible in which the townspeople are forced to confront a manifest monstrous menace as well as the dangerous forces unleashed by their own fears.
The townspeople learn from Private Jessup (Sam Witwer) of the rumour that the military’s secret “Project Arrowhead” is concerned with research into the manipulation of inter-dimensional gateways in order to offer military scientists access to other worlds. This appears to be the source of the imaginative bestiary that intrudes into Bridgton, although the exact details as to how this event has occurred are never specified. As such, The Mist is established on (or at least strongly suggests) an underlying science fictional rationale, which lends a veneer of plausibility to the plot. The monsters are varied and give the impression of a complete and autonomous alien ecology, adapted for life in an environment dominated by thick mist, rather than a catalogue of isolated monsters or supernatural entities. Scenes in which creatures of one species feed on another work to both escalate the scale of the dangers and emphasise the ecological (and therefore scientific) basis for their existence. In this way, horror is generated by making these events superficially consistent with a scientific understanding of the world, one effect of which is to remove traditional supernatural explanations that might allow the characters, and the audience, to account for the presence of monsters. This, of course, is no comfort at all, to both the characters and the audience, and for some viewers may even accentuate the horror of the film because these events cannot be dismissed as superstitious fantasy. This alien ecology provides evidence of another world, and its inhabitants threaten to displace life on Earth.
A brief interlude towards the end of the film, in which a few characters attempt to escape the infested town, introduces a transitory suggestion of wonder. A dreamlike sequence (or one more properly induced by shock), in which these characters, led by Drayton, travel through the devastated landscape, introduces a tantalising glimpse of another side to this horrific world. An awe-inspiring vision of a gargantuan creature recalls Lovecraft’s Mythos of a universe dominated by cosmic horrors against which humanity is utterly insignificant. This scene adds depth to the visceral danger that besets the characters, linking fear to a revelatory ecstasy which is the very character of the sublime, as they stand witness to the unknown.
Despite the multiplicity of monstrous antagonists, they are not the primary source of horror in The Mist. Instead, they are the catalyst for tensions between the townspeople trapped within the supermarket. The initial reaction of the men, women, and Drayton’s young son, is an understandable combination of panic and fear, with three leaders emerging and then clashing. These leaders are Norton, a black lawyer from out of town, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a well-known member of the community who is ridiculed for her Christian fundamentalism, and Drayton himself, who convinces several people in the store of the presence of the monsters in the mist. Norton refuses to accept the account given by Drayton and three other witnesses of an attack by a tentacled creature. At first, we are led to expect that the confrontation between Norton and Drayton will dominate the film. Instead, Norton leads a small group of others into the mist in an effort to reach help. Drayton and Norton part as enemies, but they work their differences out rationally and attempt, through persuasion rather than force, to convince others as to the best way of responding to this threat.
However, when the townspeople realise the nature of their plight, Mrs. Carmody’s effort to persuade the others that it is the Biblical End of Days becomes more successful than their measured approaches. She begins to preach to those trapped in the supermarket and soon gathers a following of devotees. When Private Jessup reveals what he knows about the Arrowhead Project, Mrs. Carmody takes this as the platform to launch an anti-science sermon and to use Jessup, and those she deems to be disobeying God’s laws, as scapegoats for the event. However, The Mist is not concerned with exploring a religion / science debate so much as it is with underlining a fundamental aspect of human nature: the tendency for people to turn to easy solutions when civilisation’s securities are stripped away and they are left to ensure their own precarious survival. Carmody directs her followers’ fears against those who dissent with her interpretation of events, leading to Drayton and his followers becoming substitute foci for the townspeople’s reactions to the monsters. Carmody calls for them to be used as sacrificial offerings to the beasts, in order for the rest to be spared.
Carmody’s hypocritical accusations of sin, against Jessup, then Drayton and his followers, allows her to develop a growing power base from which to dominate the townspeople. Only one character openly dissents from Mrs. Carmody’s view of a vengeful Old Testament God on the basis of an opposed New Testament interpretation grounded in compassion and forgiveness, but he is killed early in the film by one of the monsters and thus this critique is not sustained. While Mrs. Carmody’s rise to power seemingly justifies the pessimistic view of human nature voiced by some of the characters, I thought that these particular events were the product of the specific power dynamics in the film. Two schoolteachers: Amanda Dunfrey (Laurie Holden) and Irene Reppler (Frances Sternhagen), offer strong female voices opposing Mrs. Carmody’s religious fundamentalism and her tendency to scapegoat others. Thus, the film goes some way to avoid sexist assumptions that women are more susceptible to irrationality, hysteria and/or insanity.
The Mist is a fascinating portrayal of the power struggles that arise between those people who emerge as leaders in crisis situations. The use of mist to control what is shown on screen effectively creates a sense of lurking danger, and the opportunity it offers for concentrating a group of people and focusing on the way that they interact and adapt to the event makes The Mist an effective study of the intensities of human behaviour. Without a clear antagonist, the community looks within itself to place blame and thus explain the horrors it is experiencing. Although some may find Mrs. Carmody’s extremism excessive, and distrust the speed with which her preaching takes root amongst her followers, the townspeople’s struggle with the nature of reality in a world exposed to the intrusion of inter-dimensional beings forms a convincing basis for their destructive reactions. It is this revelation of the ease with which a forceful leader can instigate the casting off of civilisation’s securities and norms, paving the way for the atrocities that the townspeople commit against one another, which makes The Mist one of the great horror films of the 21st Century.
Chris Pak is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Liverpool, where he teaches on several undergraduate modules under an Allott Graduate Scholarship. His thesis is focused on the theme of terraforming in science fiction, but he maintains an interest in other Fantastic and Genre Fictions. More information and links to other essays and reviews can be found at www.chrispak.webs.com.