Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Mist

The Mist
The Mist

After 'The Shawshank Redemption' and 'The Green Mile', writer/director Frank Darabont returns to Stephen King territory with 'The Mist'. After a mysterious mist descends on small town, Castle Rock, bringing with it a multitude of strange man-eating creatures, shoppers find themselves trapped in the local foodstore. Soon, as in the Twilight Zone episode 'The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street', they find that they have as much to fear from the monsters lurking inside than the CGI ones stalking the car park.
I won't begin to spotcheck the variety of sources this movie, or rather the novella it is based on, references; it doesn't really matter. King's strength has never been his originality, but how he uses common genre tropes to achieve contemporary, socially relevant ends. (I will note, however, that there is an interesting contrast between this film and Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead'; one has a small number of people in a huge mall, while the other, representing small town America and all its prejudices, sees a large group of people trapped in a relatively small store.)Despite a little too much talk, this is a fascinating, and brave, horror. Indeed given that the norm in contemporary horror is to sacrifice character in the service of plot, it is refreshing to have something to think about while you squirm, and the characters - stereotypes one and all though they might be - are deliberately used to give us a microcosm of America. (It's also good to have a kid behave like a kid, even if that means being annoying; better that than the precocious beasts we more often have to suffer.)
Trapped in the store, prejudices (often centering on those who are not 'local') soon bubble over and create sides when everyone should be uniting. Fear, as the characters themselves point out, on the one hand puts us in the hands of monsters, and on the other, and indeed as a result, makes monsters of us all. Marcia Gay Harden's Christian fundamentalist is the primary source of the polarisation. Beginning as a figure of fun, she rapidly becomes a mini-Hitler. She is just the most visible human monster though; no one really survives the onslaught.
On the outside an impressive, but often very familiar, array of beasties keep the pressure on the survivors. I am not one for CGI appreciation, but though the pixels do sometimes show, the inter-dimensional monsters do their job, instilling terror in shoppers and audience alike. We are never in any doubt that what lies in the mist is best left there. Again though, they are something of a McGuffin, or rather a mechanism, to set the real monsters loose.
The movie had a lukewarm reception in America and probably won't break box office records here either. It's far from perfect. Certainly the damning portrait of the silent majority could not have helped in the US. The real reason audiences might baulk though is undoubtedly the ending. If what has gone before was Lovecraft, what finishes proceedings is pure Ambrose Bierce ('THE COUP DE GRĂ‚CE' anyone?), and if the movie were tighter, this would be one of the best contes cruels of recent times. But contes cruels are an acquired taste and that ending probably won't help here either. Neither will the frequent longuers. However, for the cynical among us (and there's still a couple of us), the film's negative view of humanity, and indeed Fate, cannot but appeal. Yea, as Hobbes put it, 'Life is nasty, brutish and short'; and then there's those damn tentacled, inter-dimensional thingies. We just can't win!

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