Some have claimed that The Mist is a masterpiece. They are wrong but the film deserves to be championed. The Mist may be flawed but no one can accuse it of lacking ambition. The movie has both merit and ideas. It is superior to anything that will be seen in any of the acclaimed episodes of the six series of The Walking Dead. Three of the cast from that series appear in The Mist. Familiar with an apocalypse they cope as well as anyone else in the cast. As in the TV series, The Walking Dead refugees know how to talk and agonise. Some scenes in The Mist are overextended, and the chat about what constitutes human nature is laboured. Characters state the obvious. The Mist is not the equal of Lord Of The Flies, neither the book nor the 1963 film by Peter Brook, but it has the same pessimism about human nature and it is provocative. Adults under pressure show their limitations. Status and power, as they do always, become important and cause conflict. Emotions rather than logic dominate the behaviour and protests. The adults, like those in The Birds, are inadequate, and their conversation is hysterical. We hear the same plea that first appeared in the Hitchcock masterpiece. ‘Please, you’re scaring the children.’ The cast includes some attractive actors but none is groomed for glamour. In The Mist even the pretty look plain.
The situation of a crowd trapped in a supermarket, unable to see through the mist that surrounds the town and vulnerable to an inexplicable threat is well developed. For those not too interested in themes and metaphors the battles are impressive, especially as The Mist had a modest budget. The characters of The Mist challenge the action stereotypes of Hollywood cinema. The film begins with contented family man and father David Drayton painting a Clint Eastwood lookalike for a movie studio publicity campaign. The painting of the supercilious gothic avenger is destroyed in the opening storm. The mist and what follows will expose macho fantasies as inappropriate and inept. In the supermarket some characters are stronger than others but none qualify as a hero. Bravery, when it does occur, appears to be the consequence of someone trying to make a point or being persuaded by his or her own argument. The Mist can be viewed as a serious and non-comic alternative to Tremors. It shares the same curiosity about masculinity and its limits. The Mist has two local male idiots, as in Tremors, but this time the male couple undermines the efforts of the group. The two men are divided by the events and arguments that occur inside the supermarket. At one point these two belligerent males are remembered as being underachieving students. There is no male bonding in The Mist. The English actor Toby Jones is small and an alternative to male charisma. He is reserved and quietly spoken but the only person in the film who can operate a handgun. Although the characters are interesting and challenge movie stereotypes they do not develop as the film proceeds. They are defined in initial scenes and stay constant throughout the film. This is a weakness but it is one shared by Charles Dickens. There is no need to be sniffy about a horror movie that is able to mix dramatic set pieces and serious themes.
The conflict in human nature is defined well by the murder of a soldier inside the supermarket. This is the most shocking scene in the film, especially as the assassin fails to contribute to the debates in the supermarket. He says nothing about what the threat from the mist might be and how survival can be possible. This moment is reminiscent of when in The Chase the Sheriff, Marlon Brando, is obliged to watch his prisoner Bubba be killed by a quiet man on the doorsteps of a Texas court. Watching The Mist, we have to conclude that the memory of Lee Harvey Oswald still figures in the American imagination. More than that there is the reminder; not only do noisy bigots negate debate and create rhetorical chaos their silent followers are willing to slay and impose havoc.
The memory of Oswald may be why the talkative and bullying religious extremist, who is determined to spill sacrificial blood inside the supermarket, is compared to Castro. Not because she is violent but because she talks a lot. The remark is an odd one, and the significance of the comparison is not obvious. As in The Thing by Howard Hawks, ideas are not welcomed by the people in The Mist. The monsters and the mist are blamed on the scientists at the nearby Army settlement. David Drayton, the artist, is criticised for being sophisticated and cultured. The religious woman is dangerous but nobody actually debates her ideas. Conversation is fractured, and the prospect of rational progress limited. The lawyer, and neighbour of David Drayton, is articulate and thoughtful but, when conflict emerges, he remembers past grievances. Instead of persuading others his intelligence and training is wasted by himself and the group.
The supermarket as the modern fort to protect civilisation is an obvious reference to the zombie movies of George A Romero. Faced with the inexplicable the local citizens retreat to the nearest manifestation of consumer capitalism. The message is clear. Consumerism has always been a consolation against disturbing and unresolved mysteries, a way of avoiding the next step into uncertainty. If the film has a bleak view of human nature, it also has contempt for modern appetites. Shopping may offer consolation for those frightened by existence and its unexplained meaning but the consolation is sordid. The windows of the supermarket are barricaded by agricultural fertiliser. In the struggle for survival the most valuable item in the supermarket is animal waste. Neither is there confidence in merit and justice prevailing. At one point the ‘heroes’ drive into the mist and leave the supermarket. Those left behind watch and wonder why it is others that have strength. But The Mist is too complicated for a typical positive ending. The people who created the chaos are the same ones who prevail at the end of the film. The more that authority messes up the lives of others the stronger it becomes.
Faced with the inexplicable, unfairness and doom it is important for individuals to have faith. The need for faith and its consequence on destiny are ideas that dominate The Mist but it does not repeat the Christian creed often found in Hollywood movies. Some characters appear to have too much faith, and others not enough. The film even challenges the notion of faith. The timid citizens, who lack faith and confidence, have as much chance of surviving as the daring but there is a character that asserts faith and wanders into the mist before anyone else. She survives against the odds and reason. The malevolence of the religious extremist appears to be the consequence of excess faith but an inadequate and understandable lack of faith by the daring at the end of the film has a horrific result. The timid can also have faith but it is different from the confidence and hope of the resolute. It also becomes apparent in the film that faith requires not just trust but judgement. But any judgement about the pledging of faith depends on luck. Otherwise it would be reason and not faith. The results are random, especially as our lives are distorted by the excessive power of authority. There is a final chilling effect after the music stops during the lengthy end titles. The words on the screen continue but the audience, or those that are still in the cinema, hear the noise of helicopters and army vehicles. Faith assumes destiny but that ignores a corporate state willing to distract the subjugated with consumerism. If required, the same state will murder and slaughter. The chilling mechanical noise that the killing machines of the powerful make is a reminder of our limits as individuals. Mist obscures the destiny of everyone, which is why faith is important. Unfortunately, there are dangerous and powerful people whose ideas about destiny and entitlement are much grander. Their power, and the weakness that we all share, undermines us all.
Howard Jackson has had five books published by Red Rattle Books. His latest book Choke Bay is now available here. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the other books of Howard Jackson and other great titles, click here.