The Mist is the type of horror film that works best as a thriller about people, while also giving them (and us) something to be afraid of. In this case, that thing is mist from the title, although since the mist itself isn’t dangerous, it hides a bunch of creatures that are far more terrifying. But this is a film that’s more about the relationships of the people and what they’ll do when society breaks down around them.
The plot begins with a major storm. It sends a tree through the house of our protagonist, David Drayton (Thomas Jane). He’s a painter who works primarily on movie posters, although this ends up little relevance on the plot. However, his posters are destroyed, so he’s understandably upset. He ends up taking his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble) and his neighbor, Brent (Andre Braugher) to the supermarket, as the power is out and therefore, supplies are needed. We end up spending the majority of the film at this locale, as everyone trying to feed their family ends up trapped at the store.
Mist roles in, as you’d expect given the title. Why they’re initially so afraid of it, I’m not quite sure, but they treat it like it’s a serial killer who is currently in possession of a minigun. And here is when things start going wrong. One of the people tries to leave, and he’s eaten by tentacles. Yes, tentacles. Brent doesn’t believe that this happened, so he and a few other people venture out, never to be seen again. Night falls, and we see wasp-like creatures (although about 100x the size of wasps we know). Oh, and the front of the store is only covered in glass, meaning almost anything could break in.
The basic set-up is that a group of people are trapped in a location by something that may or may not ever go away. Simple, right? What a lot of movies forget is that people are free-thinking creatures, and they don’t necessarily have to agree with the protagonist. Oh, there’s usually a couple of people who disagree, but they die early on to reaffirm that the lead is not to be questioned. This doesn’t happen here; everyone thinks for themselves. They debate, they decide what to do on their own, and there are many different personalities that all matter when it comes to these discussions and decisions.
This ends up dividing the supermarket into two main factions. First, we have Thomas Jane’s all-American group of people who think logically. Even in here, there are people who think differently from one another. The other group is led by Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), who claims that the mist has been brought down by God and it’s time for everyone to atone for their sins. Initially, she’s singled out as the crazy one, but as the days trudge on, more and more people begin seeing things from her perspective, effectively forming a cult.
It’s the warring groups of people that makes The Mist worth watching. The monsters aren’t seen all that frequently, and often times, they’re not particularly frightening. Most of them are made of poor CGI, and while they’re menacing, they don’t seem real. I’ll admit that a couple of scenes where the CGI was hidden by either the mist of darkness were quite scary, but two times out of a dozen isn’t a very good percentage. No, The Mist works because the ever-present threat forces these people to act differently than they normally would, and seeing how their characters break down in this situation is both fascinating and terrifying.
Seeing how some of these people are after their society crumbles makes you think not only how people you know in real life would react, but also how you would fare in the situation. It’s incredibly easy to place yourself within this film, And that’s not just because of how all of the characters matter, but also thanks to the cinematography, which includes a lot of handheld shots, interesting zoom choices and almost a pseudo-documentary feel that works better than many of these “documentaries” because it isn’t trying to fool us. We know it’s a staged film, but it’s immersive regardless.
The Mist‘s weakness comes from its ending, which I found to be a letdown. It felt contrived, pointless, completely unrelated to most of the film, melodramatic yet failing to make me feel anything, and also coming too suddenly. Is it a twist ending? Not really although it might feel like that. Obviously, I can’t tell you what happens and why that specifically doesn’t work, but I think it’ll disappoint a lot of people given the way it does pan out.
Oh, and if you’re hoping for a definite explanation about what the mist is and where these creatures come from, you’ll probably be disappointed. It’s mentioned at one point that they might be the result of a military experiment, although this is mentioned once and not exactly stressed. I’m okay with this, because things are generally more frightening when we lack knowledge about them, but I can see some people not enjoying this.
The Mist is a very good horror/thriller film. It works as horror because the monsters are scary enough and they’re always shrouded in mystery, and it works as a thriller because of the warring factions and the way that people in the film are always at ends with one another. Its weakest point is the ending, although I’ll congratulate director Frank Darabont for more than likely having final say on the ending instead of having it butchered by the studio. It’s still a great film that I’d recommend to horror and thriller fans alike.