Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Mist

Cover Your Mouths Y'all!

With a title like The Mist, you probably won't be faulted if the first thing in your mind is that it's one of those run of the mill horror movies, like The Fog and The Haze (ok, so I made the last one up, it's actually a recently made short film competing in Berlin). And the trailers do suggest strange shenanigans happening inside a mist shrouded town, so in the hands of any mediocre storyteller, it's so easy to make them go Boo. Based on the novella by Stephen King, The Mist turned out to be unexpectedly excellent, with audiences whooping for joy both at the right and wrong places.

Granted, sometimes Stephen King's materials do make uninteresting movies when adapted incorrectly and helmed dubiously, but Frank Darabont has proven himself with his previous King works like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, both good movies in their own right, with excellent casting. Here, a cast of mostly unknowns carry the movie, and the direction doesn't rely on gimmicky tricks to frighten you, but in its measured, calm and at times standard by-the-book style, it brings heightened tension every step of the way.

Thomas Jane, whose last movie I saw was The Punisher, stars as David Drayton, a comic artist whose house was smashed in one night by a tree during a bad storm. The next morning, he leaves his wife, and bringing his child and neighbour, they journey to the local supermarket to get supplies for home repairs, but not before realizing the army whizzing away at top speed. The pace picks up and within 10 minutes, the shoppers in the supermarket find themselves locked in as a mist descends upon them, with a frantic man running back to warn everyone that there's something within the mist.

If we're talking about a cliche story, you'll probably get wave after wave of attacks on the shoppers inside the supermarket, as they barricade themselves in for a fight for survival. However, all that turn out to be secondary, as the story becomes clear that it's not about it being a horror movie, but a social mouthpiece about a couple of topics, all of which centres upon fear, and holding a mirror unto ourselves. We are afraid of the unknown, and chances are it will lead us to make irrational decisions, sometimes firing from the hip. The movie will constantly probe you into questioning how you would respond to the given situation, whether you'll break under pressure, or be able to maintain a sane mind in formulating survival plans.

And in the unknown, there would bound to be a Bible-thumper. Truth be told, I thought that the character Mrs Carmody (sounds like "comedy", played by Marcia Gay Harden) will be one that the censors here might be touchy with, given how she was portrayed in extremely negative light. In times like these where there's a huge question mark hanging over you, there will be those who turn to religion for answers, and sometimes they may drift into the fanatical zone on the words of false prophets. Then I realize that this of course could be left as a warning against extremism, that it doesn't, most of the time, solve problems, but create them, and in the false name of god, makes it easier to do so too, in persuading others to join in the lost cause.

Naturally, the preservation of self also takes centerstage, and does so very early, almost from the start - how we think of others having ulterior motives against ourselves, and just how much would we contribute for the greater good, or toward fellow friends and acquaintances. And this rams itself in with a key ironic scene, that sometimes, on positive karma, you may be rewarded for the good things you've done for others. There was a tinge of sadness, pity and sense of woe in the ending, and I enjoyed every minute of it, even though you may have guessed how it would turn out to be. As a friend put it, neither of us expected Frank Darabont/Stephen King to have the brass balls they had to pull it off, but it just had to be to evoke those emotions, making it all the more powerful, and wretched, at the same time.

Despite it being devoid of a soundtrack until the final moments, I thought it was highly effective in not having one, letting ambient noise play a primary role. It allowed all our senses to be focused on how things were developing during the movie, without having music to emotionally manipulate our thought process and opinions. There are moments that you had to judge, without being biased by any particular soundtrack playing over the background. But fret not, interspersed nicely between scenes of questioning, are the scenes of the usual action-adventure that you'll come to enjoy, often times squealing together with the characters (and depending on the audience, them too) as the unfortunate faceless/characterless few start to succumb to the out of the world creatures.

We've waited for a long time for The Mist to descend upon our shores, and now that it finally did (almost, at a GV Surprise Screening), it didn't disappoint a bit, but surpassed all expectations. Highly recommended.

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