NOVEMBER 7, 2007
What the hell has happened to the world of horror? For years, there was two things you could always depend on: Dimension mucking up what could have been a good film, and good Stephen King short stories becoming pretty bad movies. But now, twice this year, a King short tale has been turned into a film courtesy of Dimension, and not only are they good, but among the best of the year. The Mist is the 2nd (after the thoroughly enjoyable 1408), and it may very well be the best wide release horror film of the year (and hell, the best limited release, Inside, is being released on DVD on Dimension Extreme! Up is down, down is up; dogs and cats, living together...)
The film begins with one of the best things I have seen onscreen in years: Tom Jane, playing a poster artist, putting the finishing touches on what is quite obviously a Dark Tower movie poster. I love the DT series more than just about anything in the world of the written word, so this literally sent shivers up my spine, even though it’s sadly quite fictional (for now, anyway) and just meant to be a little joke. NOT FUNNY, DARABONT!
I was a bit curious what changes Frank Darabont would make to the source material, if any. While Shawshank Redemption (one of the finest films ever made) stuck pretty close, at least on a storytelling level (the novella wasn’t as uplifting), The Green Mile, good as it was, was almost mechanically faithful to the source material, to the point where the film seemed a bit cold (of course, that’s the one that made the most money). So I was happy to discover that while he once again stayed faithful, he actually improved on the short story in several ways. Side characters are given more to do, the trip to the pharmacy (something that takes less than 5 pages in the 120+ page “short” story) is now a major setpiece, and, most significantly, there is now an ending. I won’t spoil it, but it should be pretty interesting to see how people react to it. I loved it, and it gave the film a bittersweet moral that the short story lacked. Hopefully the majority will see it my way (then again, I wish that for everything. God, why do you people continue to hate The Hitcher remake?!?!?). Also, the Mist’s “backstory”, only hinted at in the novel, is a bit more defined here, though it’s still barely a factor. Much like Lost is about the people, not a magic island; the mist isn’t the driving force behind the film, and so spending precious screen time explaining it (or worse, trying to “stop” it) would be pointless.
The only real OMISSION to the story was a brief, sort of nonsensical sex scene between the main character and one of the women he meets at the supermarket. It was a pretty dumb segment of the book, and Darabont was wise to remove it. Not only does it make the hero (played by Tom Jane here, faring far better in King territory than he did in Dreamcatcher) less of a dick, it also keeps the film’s pace in check, instead of stopping cold to have some guy you’re supposed to like leave his kid for a while to cheat on his wife in the manager’s office of a supermarket under siege by prehistoric spiders (holy SHIT there are a lot of prepositional phrases there).
On a technical level the film is impressive as well. Darabont carried over the crew from The Shield (he directed an episode a year or so ago), and gives the film the same sort of documentary/real feel that that show has. Not everything is in perfect focus, the camera zooms and whips around in long takes rather than carefully staged multiple angles, etc. It heightens the tension, obviously, but it also works in another way – helping to sell the effects. When things feel more real (i.e. less like a big budget movie), a giant tentacle slithering under a door will make for a far more effective scare.
As expected, Darabont gets all his actors’ A games (though Jane gets a bit over the top in his final scenes), and it’s nice to see all his regulars (Bill Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, Brian Libby) together again. Marcia Gay Harden (is it wrong I think she, a 50 year old classy lady, is pretty damn hot?) manages to make a truly wretched character (a Christian fanatic) compelling and even somewhat sympathetic, no small task. Andre Braugher is also good (playing Norton, who was a pudgy white guy in the book – providing another similarity to 1408), no surprise there. And Jane is one of the more interesting actors in his age bracket, so it’s always a plus when he toplines a film that has a script worthy of his talent (he usually seems to be one of those guys who get smaller roles in great films and bigger roles in crap films – see Boogie Nights and The Punisher, respectively, for examples). Hell, even the little kid is good.
I should also point out the music. There isn’t any. At least, not until the end (that I noticed anyway – if there was any before then it was quick and as unobtrusive as any score has ever been). When seen out of context, certain scenes may feel lacking due to this choice, but the film as a whole benefits greatly from it (though the score is a bit overbearing when it is finally used). Then again, when the acting and filmmaking are this spot on, a score that tells you how to feel or what kind of scene it is isn’t necessary.
Jesus Christ, I IMPLORE you; do not let this one tank at the box office. It takes real talent and effort to make a smart, thought provoking film out of what is essentially a giant monster movie, and it would literally pain me to see it trampled on by the likes of Fred Claus or whatever the fuck. Darabont easily proves that the story doesn’t have to be set in a prison in order to make a truly wonderful Stephen King adaptation, and you should reward him for his hard work. He’s one of our best filmmakers, but the failure of The Majestic meant we had to wait 6 years for him to get back behind the camera (not to mention getting burned by Lucas on Indy 4 - Indy's loss is our gain I guess). I don’t want to wait that long again. Nor do I want to have to wait till DVD to talk about the ending of the film and what it meant to me. If 1408 can pull in 80 million in the middle of summer, there is no reason in the world why this one can’t surpass 100 when there’s almost zero genre competition. You don’t want to see the year’s best horror film on DVD (or worse, a bootleg – fucking scum).
November 21st. Be there.
What say you?