What did I see?
Well, The Mist for starters. Wednesday evening, after a fine dinner with the normal Thursday night crew (plus one), Trista and I ventured out to a 10:00 show. Driving through the streets, we discovered a fine light fog settled over Worcester. Nice atmosphere before the film itself.
Now, I am a huge fan of Stephen King's original novella. There are stories that I can remember where I was when I was reading them (sort of the JFK, Princess Di situation, but without death), and while I was not one place for that rather long piece "The Mist," (I read it in the Skeleton Crew collection, not its first appearance in Kirby McCauly's seminal Dark Forces anthology), I can recall the place I was in terms of emotion and maturity. The year was the summer of 1988, I was thirteen and reading a book of scary stories from the guy who'd done Thinner (my first King, which I'd read while my grandmother was in the hospital, enduring her last stretch of battle with the big C; the big C would win that one) and It (my second King, bought as a paperback from my junior high school at a book fair, can you believe it?).
While there would be other stories in that collection that might hit my fear buttons a bit harder (off hand and at work, I'd have to say that "The Monkey" probably takes this title, that was the one story that made me sick to my stomach; not due to gore, which I'd developed an endurance for, but dread. I could not stomach reading that story, yet I had to finish it. Years later, when I was introducing my lovely wife to horror movies, she had a similar response to John Carpenter's flawed ode to Lovecraft In the Mouth of Madness, which I understood completely. But I digress...), "The Mist" remains one of my favorite "shorter" works from SK. Because it's got a cheesiness while playing things straight, because its ending is ambiguous, because the characters stuck in my head and made themselves at home (even now, I still recall some of these people with affection), because it had a delightfully scary atmosphere, because it evoked Lovecraft and dinosaurs gone wrong and... And because the writing was so lucid and wonderful. I still recall the unlucky bag boy being dragged out the steel door by tree trunk thick tentacles. I still recall the mad dash through the parking lot. I recall the "party streamers" in the pharmacy that turn out not to be celebratory, after all. I now recall (with thanks to shadowravyn the military men's jackets folded nicely as their fate dangles unavoidably near... There's plenty more. If you've enjoyed the story, perhaps you recall similar things. Perhaps not.
So, when I saw the trailer for Frank Darabont's adaptation (mentioned in my review of 30 Days of Night), I saw glimpes of images wrenched from the movie that had played in my head for the last twenty years -- a better movie than any film could reproduce, of course, since my Head Movie also features unobtrusive voice overs for thoughts and cetera -- I was geeked. Had to see this movie.
So, we drove through building fog to see it.
The film begins quickly enough, breezing through the build up of the story -- the opening section recounts, with more length I recall, a devastating storm -- and getting to the seige element. If you haven't read the story, seen any trailers, read other critics, or otherwise are somehow in the dark about this film's plot, my suggestion is to rectify this. I suck at synopsizing things, because I love minutia. What's that? Too lazy? All right, here goes:
After a storm ravages a Maine town, a man and his son go to the grocery store for some supplies. While there, a strange mist rolls into town. Something inside the mist is deadly, and everyone in the grocery store must hole up, trying to figure out how to survive. They soon faces monstrous threats from outside and among themselves. Already bad, situations only continue to get worse. Soon enough, a contingent of folks come to realize that there is no safety to be had in the confines of the grocery store, and they must escape it if they are to find any sort of security. They try, abandoning one fate for another. The end is not a happy one, which I was glad to see.
The film is pretty close to the source material until the last ten minutes or so, where it deviates. Or does it? As I find this sequence to be some of the more interesting thematically, I can't help but talk about it...
So, our contingent of five survivors (four adults, one boy) escape the store, manage to get to a vehicle and drive the hell out of there. As they cannot get out of their vehicle without attracting a very painful death, they drive (with one brief stop at "home" to try and save the man's wife/boy's mom) south, trying to escape the mist.
In the story, the ending is an "Alfred Hitchcock" one, that is ambiguous. Hartford sounds like hope. If they have enough gas, they might just reach that place...
In the film, there is a different sort of ambiguity:
The gas runs out. There are sounds of approaching beasties. The company in the land rover have a pistol with four bullets. No one wants to face that painful death, but our protagonist and father takes on that duty. The four bullets are used, leaving him absolutely alone. He screams, he weeps, he has a total breakdown, and then he steps out of the car, demanding that the monsters come for him. What comes for him, instead, is a tank. And the national guard trucking Maine citizens like refugees from some war torn nation (I'm still not sure if some of those faces are actually from the grocery store or not). The military has things in hand, we discover. Burning monster cocoons with flamethrowers and such. Many of the soldier boys wander past our lone protagonist, glancing at him like some morbid curiosity as he has his final emotional dissolution. He killed the other survivors (including his own son) for no reason whatsoever; rescue was close, after all.
Now, that thirteen year old version of me -- the die hard inner fan of the story started shrieking at this. "That's not right! That's not right! That's not right!" That voice, you see, is somewhat unreasonable. The older version of me chewed this over.
First of all, I discovered a curious literary homage here. I recalled Golding's Lord of the Flies (another book I read as a younger lad, which had a lasting effect), which ends with a pack of boys turned savage chasing one lone boy out onto a beach, where he discovers that the adults have come at last. This ending reflects some of that. (And it offers a final tip of the hat to "Castle Rock", which was what those savage boys called their "fort" in the rocks on the island -- Hell, Lord of the Flies is all over the human horror aspects of this story; it's not a stretch to see it here...)
But then, I noticed how quickly The Mist evaporates. As David Drayton (played by Thomas Jane) emerges from his car, the Mist is damned thick. Then comes the tank, the mist swirls, thinning a touch. Then, in subsequent shots, the mist vanishes altogether, and it's clear as clear can be. This suggests, to the English Major in my head, anyway, something of insanity. David Drayton, already torn with remorse and grief for killing his own son, has a complete break with reality, seeing instead of the monsters that come for him the truly worst of all worlds.
Of course, there are plenty of people who will disagree with this. They will say, "But we see the tank. We see the guardsmen. We see order restored." A lot of folks foolishly assume that everything they see on the screen is something "real" when Rashomon put paid to that bitch some years ago -- you see four plausible stories and are told that none of them are true -- why should this ending, which is perceived by only one character in the narrative, to be "truly happening" to him? Bah, I say. I read this ending to be metaphorical instead of actual. Your own mileage, of course, may vary...
HERE END SPOILERS
As a monster movie, not bad. Not bad at all. Of course, there are the little flubs that come about because of a film: eg. several kids inexplicably vanish as time goes on (who needs so many child actors/extras?).
The movie looks lovely. The script is pretty smart, and the film is filled with tons of references to King's other works (including a beautiful painting rendition of Roland, the rose, and The Dark Tower). The atmosphere is delightfully creepy, and there are some wonderful effects, while the story remains firmly focused on the characters.
Another excellent film adaptation from Darabont. Hopefully he works his curious magic on Farenheit 451 (which IMDB tells me is the next announced project, so take it with a grain of salt), as well.
By the time the movie was done, Trista and I emerged from the theater to find a thick fog settled over the parking lot. Under the impressionistic glow of the streetlamps, the cars were barely visible blobs of darkness. A few kids ventured out ahead of us, and I said to Trista, "Let's slow up a bit. Let the kids get eaten first." She laughed. The only screams we heard were those kids' laughter, so we found out way to the car.
The drive home was a surreal and eerie experience. A fine end to an eerie movie...