Nothing to Fear?


Well, I guess that depends on whether you are carrying the Olympic torch through San Francisco this week, or if you are a Warriors fan anxiously awaiting Thursday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets. It has been a busy couple of weeks out here on the left coast. Deadlines breathing down my neck and a film project on the horizon are vying for my time and attention. I have, however, managed to get in a couple of good movies over the past two weeks. I caught Martin Scrosese’s new documentary, Shine a Light, that focuses on one of their more recent concerts. This is no Last Waltz, but it is still good fun. The requisite theater experience aside, this film is probably best viewed in the comfort of your home where you can get up and imitate a Mick Jagger strut. I guess if you’re bold enough, a theater aisle would work even better. However, another film on DVD grabbed my attention, and I have been thinking about it on and off since I watched it. Most people might be turned off by seeing Stephen King’s name above a movie title, fearing that the film might be another B horror movie. Fortunately, The Mist transcends this stereotype and offers an interesting commentary on our current, fearful political climate and fear itself.

Based on a novella by Stephen King and directed by Frank Darabont (perhaps most famous for The Shawshank Redemption), The Mist tells the story of a small northeastern town invaded by a mysterious fog after a severe thunderstorm. The story focuses on a group of townspeople who barricade themselves in a local grocery store after they see a blood-stained man emerge from the mist warning them not to go outside. As the film progresses, we quickly see that grotesque octopus/spider hybrid monsters occupy the mist. If the tentacled-ones don’t get you, the web slingers will. However, they are not nearly as scary as some of the trapped humans, most notably Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden in a devilishly hateful performance). The main character and de facto leader, David Drayton (Thomas Jane), must figure out the best way to keep his son and his neighbors safe from the (non)human monsters. Though the film implies that the mist is a military experiment gone wrong, Mrs. Carmody begins preaching apocalyptic gloom and doom that soon wins over her fearful neighbors. Mrs. Carmody’s deranged interpretation of the events leads to the just as many deaths, inside the supermarket at least, as the monsters do. David soon realizes that whatever is “out there” certainly cannot be as terrible as what is inside the supermarket. He braves the creatures and the film ends with a stunning conclusion that Darabont apparently clung to with an iron fist throughout the production process.

Rather than relying on dramatic special effects to freak out his audience, Darabont instead focuses on the reaction of the townspeople to the threat of the external enemy. I recently heard a critic comment on the popular Sci-Fi television series Battlestar Galactica by saying that if the producers had a million more dollars it would suck. This assessment certainly applies to The Mist as well. Had Darabont had the resources to create creatures as “realistic” as, say the monster in Cloverfield, the film would have become simply another horror/thriller flick. Instead, by focusing on the townspeople’s panic, we quickly see that the film becomes something much more important, a commentary on fear itself and the fearful times in which we live.