I’m sure nobody saw this one coming; this is one of the ultimate dark horse horror flicks of all time, almost nobody saw it when it first came out, but it was a favorite of mine from the first moment I saw it. While most of the movies that have made it this high on my list have earned their spots through consistent greatness throughout, or a lot of nostalgia giving me fond memories of the film, The Mist is one of those movies that makes it this high simply by the virtue of one single, amazing moment that I can’t believe anyone had the guts to put on screen. That’s not to say The Mist isn’t a great movie in its own right, it really is. It’s one of the best and most unique monster movies that’s been put through in recent years, and is one of the best Stephen King movies ever made, even if nobody really saw it when it first came out.
Based on the Stephen King novella (one of my top five favorites of his stories, if I’m going to be honest), The Mist follows a group of people from a small town in Maine (naturally) trapped in a grocery store after a mysterious storm and power outage. When a man comes running in saying something in “The Mist” killed another man, they are skeptical. However, when the mist rolls in, enveloping the store, they are left only with their imagination and the strange sounds coming from outside to ramp up their fear. Soon, after the threats within the mist make themselves clear, fear gives way to paranoia, and paranoia gives way to religious mania when one woman within the store declares this the end of times, and that only she has the answers that will save them. In time, the monsters within the mist become the least of their worries.
Director Frank Darabont had already directed two Stephen King movies by this point with The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, but not having adopted any of King’s horror work I was a bit dubious when I saw him signed on to this project at first (this was before The Walking Dead, kids). However, his early years writing 80’s horror movies really shows through as he helps transform The Mist into the big, creepy as hell monster movie that it was meant to be. He is an expert at ramping up tension, taking full advantage of the mundane setting and making it all the more claustrophobic and binding as the movie progresses. Much of the fear comes from not knowing what is within the mist, and even once we see what is there, we wish we hadn’t.
All of the monster set pieces in this movie are suitably horrifying and grotesque. Though the origins of these monsters is never explicitly stated, it is hinted that they may be from another dimension that intersected with our own. As such, the creatures are recognizable, but different and unsettling, existing in forms and moving in ways that should not be. Though I am kind of an old school purist when it comes to my special effects (practical effects, all the way!), the digital creations in this movie are suitably otherworldly and entirely unsettling.
However, at its core this film is a character drama, and that is where the true heart and terror come in. Thomas Jane plays the great Stephen King standby everyman hero, trying to protect his young son while trying to make sense of what has happened to the world, while backed up by an expert cast of character actors including Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, Laurie Holden, Frances Sternhagen and Jeffrey DeMunn. However, the true star of the movie has to be Marcia Gay Harden in the occasionally over-the-top, but often creepy role of Mrs. Carmody. A religious zealot, she starts the movie out looking like a madwoman, but slowly and seductively gains a cultlike following in the store. She falls into the role with great relish, never giving up on the character’s insanity, but growing more bombastic as she gains more power and believers within the store. The scene where she leads a lynch mob to stab and execute a soldier by forcing him out to face the monsters within the mist still gives me chills.
So I’ve gone over why this is a good movie, but what makes it top 10 worthy? Hell, what makes it # 6 worthy? It earns this spot entirely on the merits of one scene: the ending. To go into details would be giving away massive spoilers, so I’ll do what I can to do it justice without giving it away. In short, it is quite possibly the bleakest ending attached to a major studio release I have ever seen. I’d never believed any film could have the balls to pull off the ending this one did. Hell, when Stephen King himself says, “Man, I wish I’d thought of that…”, you know you have to be doing something right.
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-- Matt Carter
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