Fog. Fog. Fog.

We went to see THE MIST. When we came out, it was slightly misty. Uncanny.

I get the impression this film came out ages ago in the States, but here it’s just opened, and was only showing at 5.15pm on one screen in Edinburgh. Not a big hit Stateside, presumably. Why that should mean it shouldn’t get a big release here is puzzling to me, since possibly what stopped it working on its home turf is its politics, and political perceptions are different here.

But what ARE the politics of the film, a Frank Darabont adaptation of a Stephen King short story? Well, it certainly has things to say about crazy religious zealots (a favourite King bugbear). I don’t disagree with King’s assessment of God-bothering wingnuts, but it’s a little depressing that he always writes them the same way. Marcia Gay Harden in THE MIST is almost exactly the same character as Kathy Bates in MISERY and Piper Laurie in CARRIE. And they do always seem to be women.

“Another failed attempt to make Christians look bad” says somebody on the IMDb. I dunno, I thought they  looked pretty bad, the ones in the movie. I suspect that if you’re a Christian and you think this movie is about you, it is.

The drama of the film is divided in an interesting way. As the titular dry ice descends on King’s usual community of Castle Rock, a disparate crowd of shoppers shelter in a supermarket (if it were Britain, they would doubtless head for the pub, as in nearly every U.K. apocalypse movie, but Americans have a tendency to gravitate to larger outlets, as in DAWN OF THE DEAD), struggling to fend off the savage alien ecosystem that lives in the fog.

While all the action sequences revolve around battling the extra-dimensional creepy-crawlies (C.G.I. tentacles and skull-faced insects etc), much of the drama comes from the conflicts among the humans, with Harden’s crazy bat forming her own doomsday cult with tendencies towards human sacrifice.

The movie stumbles in a couple of ways with this approach. Firstly, it sacrifices the atmospheric chills of fog-blind panic for sheer monster-osity. There’s no “unseen” in this film, the beasties are all over the screen, FLAUNTING THEMSELVES. Secondly, it robs the cult of screen time and the chance to build convincingly.

Still, most of this is entertaining. The bugs are genuinely horrible, even more so than the excessively nasty critters in Jackson’s KING KONG (advice: better to get killed by the BIG ones, it’s much quicker) and there are some good actors at work. Thomas Jane does OK with the boring hero part, and the wonderful Toby Jones (son of the beyond-wonderful Freddie) gets to be an action star. Which has to be good. There aren’t many short action stars with outsized baby foreheads. Bruce Willis need no longer be lonesome.

Oh, and it’s always terrific to see the authoritative and adorable Frances Sternhagen.

The characters are a bit stupider than necessary, I have to say. Trapped in a building with a glass front, they set about sandbagging it with doggie chow sacks, rather than simply withdrawing to the loading bay with a lot of provisions. They have three army guys from the military base where the problem started, but it takes ages before anybody thinks of asking them what happened. And so it goes.

Darabont starts in his usual staid fashion, then adopts a Battlestar Galactica kind of shaky-cam crash-zoom approach when the biting starts, which didn’t really work for me. If you’re trying to simulate documentary roughness, it should be consistent. In reality, it’s almost as hard for a camera operator to smoothly follow somebody going to the fridge to get some Weightwatchers Carrot and Swede Mash as it is to follow somebody fighting an alien pterodactyl in Walmart. And I can say that with total authority, because I’m a strange, strange man.

Oh yes, politics. The other area where these surface is the disputes amongst the survivors. There’s some pithy barroom (or supermarket) philosophy here: “As a species, we’re fundamentally insane. Put two of us in a room, we pick sides, and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. That’s why we invented politics and religion,” opines Toby. And as always with monster movies, its tempting to read this one as a metaphor for Our Present Mess. “We’ve got to cut and run!” declares Jane.

But things are pretty complicated. The monsters are explained, rather lamely, as the results of a military experiment in extra-dimensional jiggery-pokery (what I’d call a video game explanation). So military intervention got us into this. But then at the end —

VAGUE SPOILER ALERT!

— the army take care of the problem. And the hero would appear to have been wrong in giving up hope. If this IS a metaphor for the Iraq war, the message would seem to be “Trust in the military, they will take care of these inhuman bad guys if we STAY THE COURSE!”

I sort of think Darabont probably didn’t intend that message, although I don’t know much about his views. Which would make it a failed ending, I think, although I did respect its very un-Hollywood negativity. It’s an ending that may well follow you around for a bit, bothering you, whether you like it or not.

“I regret nothing!”

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9 Responses to “Fog. Fog. Fog.”

  1. Chris B Says:

    http://film.guardian.co.uk/interview/interviewpages/0,,2287437,00.html

    I saw this a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. The double disc US DVD has a version of the film entirely in black and white, furthering the tribute to B’s. I swear I’ve seen either a short film or a TV episode based on King’s The Mist before but I don’t know what it was, and no one else does either, maybe I just imagined it after reading the book back in the 80s.

    Anyway, probably my favourite Darabont production so far (which may not be saying much, in retrospect).

  2. I would disagree that all King’s religious nutters are women – there is the priest from Cycle of the Werewolf, Craig Toomey from The Langoliers and perhaps King’s most important crazy Randall Flagg from The Stand, Eyes Of The Dragon and (I think) the Dark Tower books.

    Interesting that the ending continues past the end of King’s short story into the dark coda. In a way found the ending of Michael Haneke’s film Time Of The Wolf to remind me a great deal of the end of King’s story (though minus giant creatures of course!)

    What I would like to know is when they going to get around to doing James Herbert’s The Fog? :)

  3. I guess there#s the nutty prez (Martin Sheen) in The Dead Zone too: “The missiles are flying! Hallelujah!” But the female ones have tended to have the most impact on film. Which isn’t necessarily King’s fault.

    Darabont does have a bit of a problem ending his films, and I think The Mist maybe takes too long to reach its conclusion, and horrible though it is, I don’t know if it delivers quite the political point he intended. Although in the present climate, almost any negative ending seems progressive. Part of what got us into this mess was an unreasoning optimism and faith in our bombs and superiority of numbers to effect regime change swiftly and without any mess, which a lot of the war’s supporters seems to have been deluded by. So for a movie to say “things can go very wrong, and they won’t necessarily get fixed” is maybe helpful.

    I like the sound of the b&w version!

  4. Never mind The Fog, how about Charles Platt’s The Gas? Can’t see that getting made, I guess.

  5. Been out for a while on dvd here in the Southern Hemisphere.

    Watching it the other weekend I thought at point that it was the best B monster movie of its kind since Carpenter’s The Thing (“you gotta be f***ing kidding”) – referenced in a painting seen at the beginning. Then it began to unravel. Still, as a parent, I can tell you that the ending left me genuinely shocked and not a little depressed. “Well that was a downer” said my wife. Still, I’m glad that someone made a decent effort at making a film of one of my favourite King short stories. Now if only someone of Darabont’s clout could do justice to Heinlein’s The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.

  6. Haven’t read much Heinlein — I was foolish enough to start with the later works, which are depressingly lecherous in a dirty old man kind of way, and Starship Troopers, which I looked at at least a decade before the movie, seemed off-putting. But I’m just off to the library for the new Christopher Fowler so I’ll see what they have.

    “What a downer,” is kind of the only response to the Mist’s ending possible, since it’s not poetically just or classically tragic. It falls under the heading of “shit happens”.

  7. HRH Samuel Dale Says:

    If you guys are looking for a depressing/glib Sci-Fi summing up of America, (and perhaps the world in general,) you should to check out KURT VONNEGUT’S BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS

    “There were a quadrillion nations in the Universe, but the nation Dwayne Hoover and Kilgore Trout belonged to was the only one with a national anthem which was gibberish sprinkled with question marks.”

    The book deals not so much with a case of shit happening, as the author going mad while shit happens, which he also happens to be making up, or maybe not… Anyway it made me laugh and shit scared all at the same time, someone should make a film like that!

  8. I love that book. There is actually a film of it, by Alan Rudolph, whom I admire, but I don’t think he captures what I like in the novel.
    Mother Night is still the best Vonnegut adaptation, from one of the weakest books. I recommend it.
    The films of Slaughterhouse 5 and Breakfast of Champs are worth a look. I hear Slapstick is bad, but I’ve never seen it. A shame, because that’s an AMAZING book. The joke about China is one of the great delayed gags in literature.

  9. Wow.This movie is….I don’t now how to describe it.I like this movie very much.I’ts a very very very very very fantastic film.I like this film. :D :D

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