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Retro Review: The Mist (2007)

It’s now been a full decade since ‘The Mist’ first tentatively crept onto our cinema screens (see what I did there?), so we thought we’d use said 10th anniversary as the perfect excuse to revisit the iconic horror flick to see just how it has fared since it made its original debut, and how relevant it now is in a movie market that has changed immeasurably over the intervening years.

The answer, unsurprisingly, is that the film is every bit as jarring and thought-provoking as when it first arrived, and today still comfortably stands shoulder to shoulder amongst the best horror movies that have come along since. ‘The Mist’ was both a critical and financial success at the time of its release, which is somewhat of a rarity for a monster movie.

It would re-write the majority of the conventional rules set out by the genre, and has forever cemented itself in cinematic history with a conclusion so painful and heart-rending that few other film endings have ever even come close to competing with it. So just what is it about this movie that makes it such a brilliant success story?

The most obvious answer to that question is simple. Pedigree. Drawing on a Stephen King novella for source material, the movie was written and directed by King’s longtime collaborator, Frank Darabont. With a director who had scripted previous King adaptations such as ‘The Green Mile’, and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, it would have been a massive surprise for things to have gone wrong. But then, movies based on King’s novels have always proven somewhat of a gamble to bring to the big screen.

In many ways, ‘The Mist’ can be seen as a dry run for Darabont’s later huge success in bringing ‘The Walking Dead’ to our TV screens. He effortlessly translates the creeping tension and graphic death scenes contained within the original material to the big screen, supported by a cast that is bursting with talent.

Indeed, amongst the performers are three actors who Darabont would later bring along with him to ‘The Walking Dead’. These being Melissa McBride, Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn, all of whom would prove to be key factors in drawing audiences to the award-winning TV show.

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The film would prove to be a significant stepping-stone for the majority of the actors involved. Since he appeared in it, Toby Jones has gone on to join a select group of venerable British actors who can be depended on to turn their hand to any project. Both Sam Witwer and Alexa Davalos have appeared in a string of successful fantasy projects, and William Sadler is his usually engaging and memorable self.

Naturally, it’s Tom Jane who steals the show. He brings with him the watchability and intensity that he has displayed in every role he has ever taken, and that few other actors can match. It’s a standard that he’s maintained from playing Frank Castle, all the way up to his most recent appearances as Cop/Freedom Fighter Josephus Miller in hit series ‘The Expanse’.

There’s as much monstrosity on display amongst the human characters here as there is amongst the inhuman ones, and it’s the deep probing by the script of the worst traits that mankind has to offer that makes the narrative so damnably compelling. As the story plays out, growing desperation amongst the protagonists breeds a smothering fanaticism, which in turn leads to murder and oppression as a means to assuring survival.

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Characters are as likely to meet their end by the hand of their fellow man as they are by the shredding talon of an extra-dimensional entity, and that makes for a considerably more unsettling watch than the traditional horror movie ‘siege format’.

Indeed, it’s the parting with tradition that makes the film stand so far above all of it’s competitors. There’s a determined and visible attempt by Darabont to avoid cliche and convenience, which massively pays off. For example, the US military here aren’t particularly oppressive or malevolent. Indeed, they prove just as defenseless and incapable as the people they find themselves trapped alongside.

For once, they’re not the ones trying to screw people over to further or cover up their illicit activities. Yes, ultimately they’re responsible for what’s happening, but by the close of play they will have come to represent the more noble elements of the human characters, partially redeeming their actions as opposed to continuing to further their mistakes and wrongdoings.

The movie also avoids the tendency of hiding its sinister antagonists, and bringing them along bit by bit with gradual reveals. The mist is a conduit that brings them into the story, not a refuge for them to hide in. They’re a gibbering mess of differing species and shape, with their size playing little relevance to how lethal each monster is. From poisonous flapping nightmares, to burrowing spiders with acidic webbing, to tentacled behemoths whose very touch dissolves the skin, death comes relentlessly in all shapes and sizes, from every angle of the screen.

It’s no case here of some hidden enemy slowly picking off the human victims one at a time until only a hero remains. This is instead a visceral and immediate re-balancing of the food chain, which in turn causes an equally brutal battle for survival amongst the human characters in the face of their changing environment.

And you know what? Frankly, the majority of viewers would most likely choose to take their chances outside against the lumbering behemoths that inhabit the mist than go up against Marcia Gay Harden’s bible-quoting queen of the bitches.

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But it’s not the messy deaths and futile escape attempts that cause the most pain here, it’s the uncomfortable moral dilemmas and hopeless choices that the story presents its players with that tear at the heartstrings. From the overpowering instinct to protect a family, to the wider responsibility for the weaker members of society, and THAT agonizing final decision that Jane is forced to live with, this movie will cause you sleepless nights and no end of heartbreak.

It’s a testament to the film’s success and enduring legacy that it’s now joined the select group of movies that have been converted into new televisual re-imaginings, joining the likes of ‘Fargo’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’. And if you’ve seen the trailer for the series, you’ll know that this newly imagined TV version of the story looks to be every inch as haunting and oppressive as the original.

So, go on. Seek the movie out online. Or, heaven forbid, dig out that dusty old DVD, before you catch the TV show. But don’t blame me if you suffer a sudden catastrophic loss of faith in humanity, or find out that you subsequently can’t sleep with the lights off any more…

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