I can't remember where I first heard it said that a movie is a short story, not a novel. This film demonstrates that quite nicely, I think. It's based on a 155-page Stephen King novella, or in other words a 25-page short story from anyone else. I remember it as being okay. I think I quite liked it. It's a one-dimensional story in which the author traps a bunch of folks in a supermarket and throws monsters at them, but there's nothing wrong with being simplistic every now and then.
It certainly wouldn't have occurred to me to turn it into a film, but then again I'm not Frank Darabont. This is his third Stephen King film after The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999), but it's his first that wasn't a gentle period piece in a prison. This is a bit different to those. What justifies this film's running time is its study of human nature, but we're not talking about Morgan Freeman being heartwarming here. To quote Darabont himself, "It's people at each other." "How primitive do people get? It's Lord of the Flies that happens to have some cool monsters in it." There's a scene in the middle of the film where the characters actually discuss this openly. There's a nice lady who believes that people are good and they should be trusting each other more, but everyone else is pointing out that underneath we're all cavemen.
Let's just say that not all the deaths here are the fault of the monsters. People are being horrible to each other even before the worst of it starts, with tensions coming out like locals vs. out-of-towners.. In the beginning of course, everything's nice. It's a small American town. There's been a nasty storm and people go around helping each other, even when they're neighbours who can't actually stand each other. However before long all kinds of nastiness is bubbling to the surface, including a Bible-thumping harridan who doesn't seem to like all that New Testament stuff about being nice to people and seems to think the greatest sins in the world today are scientific progress and free thinking. She's a one-woman lynch mob, plus of course she's rabidly unpleasant. Look at how she slaps down one lady for having the temerity to try to be pleasant to her.
"We got a gun." This didn't sound good to me, actually.
That's half the film. I was about to call it the important half, but that would be doing a disservice to some terrific monster work. Let's say instead that all this thematic depth is what gives this movie its weight. This is an important horror film and one of the best Stephen King adaptations. You could take all the character work out and you'd be left with something that's fun, but.... hang on, you'd be left with Cloverfield, wouldn't you? Think about it. Monster flick. Rampaging weirdo aliens that kill you in imaginatively revolting ways and carefully designed to resemble nothing you've ever seen before. Lots of death and destruction is seen from a very personal viewpoint in an everyday American setting. Both films were also shot on a low budget by TV crews, in this case the camera crew from The Shield. Their respective budgets were $18m (The Mist) and $25m (Cloverfield). The main production difference is that The Mist isn't pretending to be a home movie shot by one of the characters in the film.
That's on a production level, though. The biggest difference is all that thematic work. I liked Cloverfield, but it's a snack. It's 84 minutes long, including credits. This thing runs a shade over two hours and it earns every minute of it, despite a storyline that's still basically the same as Stephen King's original.
Oh, and of course it's set in small-town Maine rather than New York. That changes the feel too.
That monster work deserves oodles of praise, though. They worked hard to make sure the creature designs here aren't like anything you'll have seen before, which makes our nearest point of comparison once again Cloverfield. Both films' monsters are mind-bogglingly nasty. I'd never seen a tentacle do that before, for a start. These guys have invented new kinds of grotesquery, which by the end have become practically Lovecraftian. I liked all that.
Obviously I watched the film's black-and-white version. Apart from the fact that black-and-white is better than colour under all circumstances anyway, that's how Darabont had wanted the film released to theatres and that's what's on the second disc of the 2-disc DVD set. Maybe one day I'll watch the colour version for comparison purposes, but the version of the film I saw looked pretty definitive to me. I'd guess that the loathsome bizarre CGI creations seem more believable in monochrome, for a start.
Acting-wise, I was pretty happy. Stephen King turned down the offer of a role in the film, thank goodness, and the part eventually went to Brian Libby. Libby, like William Sadler and Jeffrey Munn, had previously been in The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. The lead role is played by Thomas Jane (the Punisher!) who'd already been in a Stephen King film in 2003, Dreamcatcher. I liked him a lot, although if I'm being super-nitpicky, I'm not convinced that he quite evoked the full depths of the horror of the character's last scene or two. Mind you, that would have been an awful lot of horror.
There's a pedantic point for gun nuts which I wouldn't have noticed in a million years, but amuses me enough that I think it's worth mentioning anyway. The characters' gun is a six-shot revolver and the available ammo for it is two full speed-loaders, which means they have twelve bullets. Over the course of the film, exactly twelve shots are fired and then they're out of ammunition.
The best-known thing about this film is its ending, which is pretty dark. It's nastier than the one Stephen King wrote, but (a) the novella contains its seeds, and (b) after seeing the film, apparently King liked Darabont's ending so much that he wished he'd thought of it. Me, I liked it a lot.
Overall, this is one of those horror films that's going to last. In twenty years time, after Cloverfield's been almost forgotten, The Mist will be on those lists of the essential horror films alongside the likes of The Shining and The Thing. It's brutal, uncompromising and full of disgusting freaky things that want to kill you and do imaginative things to your body. Well, unless they just decide to pull you apart and eat you. They do that too.