Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)
Synopsis: Based on the Stephen King novella of the same name, the town of Bridgton, Maine becomes shrouded in a deadly mist, teeming with creatures from the dark corners of another dimension. Local painter, David Drayton (Thomas Jane), alongside his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), and their neighbour, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), become trapped along with many others in the local grocery store as the mist descends upon the town. Protected from the Lovecraftian horrors outside, the movie’s true monster becomes human nature once the vestiges of society melt away.
Despite being director Frank Darabont’s third adaptation of a Stephen King novel following The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, Dimension Films opposed releasing The Mist in black and white. Fortunately, Darabont was able to include his preferred black and white cut as an extra when The Mist was transferred to DVD. Having been in London last week, I stumbled across a showing of The Mist in black and white at the B.F.I. as part of its ongoing Stephen King season. Admittedly, I am not a horror fan by nature as stated in my review for IT, but Darabont’s past work persuaded me to watch the film.
The absence of colour exudes an unsettling sense of illusion, symbolising how the town is in limbo between established reality and a different dimension altogether. Drenched in black and white, the mist becomes alive, developing into a grainy wall like background noise in a bad photograph. The mist watches the trapped townsfolk through the plate glass storefront, as they too observe the fog keeping them captive. When the camera does stare into the mist, the film sheds away any sound, plunging you into an isolating snowdrift and trapping you with the townspeople. The choice to remove colour nods to Darabont drawing from horror and sci-fi films he watched in the 1960s. The night scenes in particular mirror the eeriness of George. A. Romero’s Night of The Living Dead from 1968.
Watching The Mist in 2017, the film is an indirect prelude to Darabont’s work on The Walking Dead. Three actors in The Mist have major roles in The Walking Dead and both stories pit ordinary people against a ubiquitous and unknown apocalyptic event. Once disbelief and shock ebbs away the two stories are an account of human nature separated from the old world. Darabont split from AMC after The Walking Dead‘s first season, but in The Mist he perceives humanity’s base nature through a dark lens. Darabont’s views are personified by Ollie Weeks, the bespectacled and softly spoken assistant store manager portrayed by British actor Toby Jones. Jones has been a favourite of mine since playing a coroner in my childhood guilty pleasure, the television show Midsomer Murders. Weeks, appearing initially as a downtrodden and outright boring man changes character as The Mist progresses. He bravely aids David Drayton while cynically narrating about human weaknesses as others around them crumble.
Toby Jones as unlikely hero Ollie Weeks on the left. To the right is Jeffrey DeMunn, better known as Dale in The Walking Dead, as local citizen Dan Miller.
Both Stephen King and Darabont understand that believable characters are a mix of good casting and great writing. That blend is evident in The Mist. Having never seen the film beforehand, it was surprising to recognise many of the actors from major films or television shows. The actors excel in roles reflecting the types of real people found in small communities, from the excessively proud mechanic Jim (William Sadler) to local eccentric Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden). The Mist often diverts away from David Drayton and observes other characters interacting with each other; humorously at first until their personalities divide reflecting the mounting division and savagery across the makeshift community. The only recent film to delve into the politics of crisis was Alien: Covenant, which did a comparable job of showing power shift between survivors. The Mist‘s account of human nature transforms the film into a supernatural equivalent of Lord of The Flies. The only flat character was the neighbour, Brent Norton, depicted by Andre Braugher, famous for his role as Captain Raymond Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It was disappointing to see Braugher’s clear acting prowess be undervalued yet again by playing another straight character.
The creatures of The Mist do have a certain creepiness. The monochrome effect of the black and white cut makes the monsters appear like B Movie abominations, ready to lurch from the screen at you. The lack of colour does rejuvenate CGI animations that are now ten years old. Returning to the more recent Stephen King film IT, the personal difference between simple scares and real horror is when something leaves a deep seated unease after watching. The Mist sometimes scares but deeply disturbs by thrusting rational people into an unending and unwinnable disaster. The Mist’s proposition and its conclusion are rare in cinema, because even in apocalyptic films like Mad Max, goodness and hope prevails. The Mist follows The Road in battling against our human need for optimism by asking;
‘What could be done if the end truly means the end?’
The Mist hints at how deliciously darker The Walking Dead could have been under Darabont’s continued direction, but for his acrimonious split with AMC. In likelihood, The Walking Dead would have delved further into grittier overtones rather than becoming a sequence of similar obstacles with predictable outcomes.
Thomas Jane is in another adaptation of a Stephen King novella this year called 1922 which is being released on Netflix next month.
If you have yet to see The Mist, do watch it in black and white. If you have already seen it in colour, give the director’s cut a try. Unfortunately, no trailer exists for the black and white’s directors cut. Below is the standard trailer for The Mist, along with Frank Darabont’s introduction to the black and white version, which will hopefully persuade you to choose his cut over the colour version.
By Saul Shimmin
The Mist trailer:
Introduction to the black and white cut by Frank Darabont: