A very recent addition, which I only saw earlier in 2012 on DVD. After watching The Mist, I curled into a foetal position and whimpered for about ten minutes. It is, quite simply, one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve ever had, and I dread to think how I might have reacted had I seen it at the cinema (probably would have had to be carried out on a stretcher). The Mist is oppressive and disturbing, gruesome and horrifying, and delivers not one but two devastating blows at its finale. Frank Darabont has directed some life-affirming cinema in the form of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. With The Mist, you might just question the value of continuing to live.
This may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but The Mist is immensely powerful and committed to its bleak portrayal of people and their world falling apart. The point at which The Mist declares itself as punishing and unforgiving is the first revelation of something nasty, and sets up the central conceit of horror both inside and outside. Our hero, David Drayton (Thomas Jane), is in the storage section of the supermarket which has become a makeshift shelter. He is there with some others, when tentacles appear out of the mist and ensnare the pleasant young man Norm (Chris Owen). David rushes to his assistance, but Jim (William Salder) and the other men do not. In similar siege movies, such as Night of the Living Dead (or any number of zombie films), a key element is disparate people banding together, conveying a sense of unity and people rallying against a common threat. This does not occur in The Mist, and it is the first indication that the film will not only feature horrible beasties, but fairly ghastly people.
This is the film’s central conceit: when placed under pressure, people become selfish, cruel and stupid. David remains the type of hero we want and that we would like to believe we would be, and there are some other positive figures in the besieged store such as Laurie Holden (Amanda Dunfrey) and Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones). But the majority of the people turn the store not into a sanctuary, but a kangaroo court governed by mistrust, judgement and eventual “expiation!” It is genuinely ambiguous whether the monsters outside are more horrific than the people inside, the eventual mob intent on casting blame, guilt and punishment upon scapegoats in the most merciless and pointless way. The mob is engulfed by the preaching of Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), proclaiming all as damned within her view of the world. The Mist can be read as a condemnation of Christianity, but the large biker (Brian Libby) who volunteers to go outside offers an alternative view: “Hey, crazy lady, I believe in God, too. I just don’t think he’s the bloodthirsty asshole you make him out to be.” Christianity is not to blame for what occurs in The Mist, any more than the military despite their meddling in forces beyond their control. The spilling of what could best be described as Hell into our world is not the focus – it is humanity’s inhumanity that provides the central horror. This is what makes the film so terrifying – it is entirely believable that in a horrific situation, people would not react the way they normally do in movies, banding together to preserve humanity in the face of adversity. Instead fear would take over, and frightened people are very dangerous. That is really frightening. Even the few who escape from the store end up giving in to fear. Their final solution proves misguided, as the film demonstrates that the only thing worse than the end of the world is surviving it. The Mist is a film about fear: its generation, its impact and its all-consuming power.