Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bald Mountain Night 6: The Mist

Each day in October, intrepid blogger Alex Boivin will watch a horror movie. These movies are all new to him and are part of his month-long effort to fill in his gaps in the horror canon. If he doesn't die from fright, you just might get to read about about his exploits in cinema during the Halloween season.

Good horror movies scare you. Really good horror movies scare you in a way that stays with you for days, weeks, months, years after you leave the theater. It may be cliche for a movie to say "In the end, the monster was us." or something along those lines, but I seriously doubt I'm going to come across vampires or werewolves in my lifetime, human beings are much scarier; or at least that's what 2007's The Mist boils down to.

Based on a Stephen King novella, The Mist has the author's finger prints all over it. Thomas Jane (he of the big penis and Vegan Police fame) stars as David Drayton, an artist living with his family in small town Maine. One day after an unusually powerful thunderstorm, David and his son Billy head to the local supermarket to stock up on provisions during the ensuing black out. Nothing is too out of the ordinary save the mysterious eponymous water vapor descending from the mountains (and their requisite top secret military base...). Soon David, Billy, and a couple dozen others are barricading themselves in the store as mysterious monsters attack the town's populace. And if things couldn't get any worse, a religious nutjob (Marcia Gay Harden) is stirring up trouble by telling the survivors it's the End of Days, and they're listening to her...

The Mist is one of the most unrelentingly dark films I've seen lately; I can't think of a single good thing that happens to anybody in it. What you have is your basic post-Night of the Living Dead survival horror story: a hodgepodge of survivors are holed up in an indiosyncratic location (farmhouse, shopping mall, military base, here we have a grocery store) as an outside threat attempts (and usually succeeds) to pick them off one by one. Anyone who has seen any movie with this basic plot (or the first season of Lost for that matter) can recognize the tropes right out the gate. Of course Tom Jane is the sensible and courageous leader who can do know wrong, and of course Harden's gonna get people killed etc.

In a way, I sort of wished the cliches weren't so recognizable, but I suppose it can't be helped. And besides, it worked. By the film's third act, most of the store's occupants have subscribed to Harden's fanaticism and they become a terrifying force showing what fear can do to human beings. A discussion of the nature of human society by the main characters comes off as something out of a freshman political philosophy course, but hey, they're small town New England folk- cut them some slack.

I watched the black and white version of this movie, available as part of the DVDs bonus features. It's director Frank Darabont's preferred version and it looks amazing. Darabont says that this was meant to be a throwback to the horror films of the 60's and 70's he grew up with, and it feels like one, which makes him the perfect choice for The Walking Dead TV series on AMC that premieres this Halloween.

But was it scary? Some of the monsters that show up, especially the spider-like ones, are freaky as hell. But if Marcia Gay Harden and her army of scared-out-of-their-skulls followers don't terrify you, you're probably one of them.

Final Verdict: 58 Congos