Blind Panic in ‘The Mist’
By Luke Beale
“Something in the mist! Something in the mist took John Lee!”
Of the authors with the most books adapted into a film, Stephen King makes the top twenty, and he takes the top spot of those still alive today. Frank Darabont has directed three feature films and a short adapted from King’s books, most famously The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Clearly a big fan of King, Darabont is no stranger to horror having also been a writer on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, The Fly II, The Blob, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. My favorite film of his as a director is his most recent, The Mist, adapted from King’s novella of the same name. The Mist follows a group of people trapped in a supermarket when a mysterious mist descends on their small town, bringing with it tentacled horrors from another dimension. However, even more horrifying than these eldritch monstrosities are the characters’ reactions to them as they fall back upon their narrow-minded world views.
One of my favorite components of the film is the way Darabont blends influences from Golden Age Hollywood monster flicks with a more modern approach. The main poster used for the film presents it as a very mid-2000s horror with a generic font and brown coloring, when in fact it is more of a throwback to B-movies like The Thing from Another World or Earth vs The Spider. There’s a more thematically appropriate poster out there with more muted colors and a font in the shape of mist which takes up the majority of the page. Darabont initially wanted it filmed in black and white, but the studio disagreed, although there is now a monochrome version available which the director prefers (and I think suits it better). Like some of those old black and white films, the characters are one-dimensional on the surface: the artist, the lawyer, the teacher, the preacher, the soldiers. However, the performances from the likes of Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, and Toby Jones do add depth to the characters more in line with modern filmmaking. The majority of the film is set in the supermarket and does clearly have a lower budget than blockbusters from the same era, which again brings to mind 50s and 60s B-movies. Unlike those, the film is scored less dramatically and uses some handheld camera work.
The supermarket setting brings to mind Dawn of the Dead and its critique of consumerism, although I interpret The Mist to be aiming more at individualism. Dawn of the Dead’s zombies work perfectly as metaphors for mindless consumers, whereas the monsters in The Mist are there more as stand-ins for general disaster and uncertainty. It’s the mist itself that is a more apt metaphor for how people can become blind in the face of danger. People do get consumed by tentacled monsters in The Mist, but it’s the characters' inability to see beyond their own viewpoints that get them killed. They are blinded by their own individualism, which ultimately leads to the films devastating ending. There is no faith in the ability of people to come together to solve problems with the idea that there might be other people out there or even a coordinated government response being largely ignored. Their individual suffering and sacrifice are shown to be completely pointless. When danger arrives the characters fall back into repeated patterns of behavior that have worked for them before. They become insular and isolated, less and less open to new ideas or the concept of community. Their whole world becomes the supermarket.
The titular mist descends on this small town following a particularly strange storm the previous night. Everyone heads to the supermarket to stock up on supplies, and we see the power is out and a local payphone is not working as military trucks speed past. The panic buying of the townsfolk suggests a fear that food will run out and implies a lack of trust in the world outside their windows; that as long as they have enough food in their house, they’ll be OK. Just before the mist envelops the supermarket a man with blood on his face and shirt runs into the store screaming “Something in the mist! Something in the mist took John Lee!” As the mist rolls in it covers everything and most people huddle in the store. One man runs to his car, and although we don’t see what happens to him, we hear his screams. While everyone else huddles scared inside the supermarket one woman says she must leave to get to her kids, and she begs someone to accompany her. Everyone avoids her eyes with our main character David (Thomas Jane) quietly justifying his lack of action by saying he has to look after his own kid Billy (Nathan Gamble). Without convincing anyone to help, the woman walks off silently into the mist. This early scene in the film shows that these people’s reactions to fear are to withdraw, forget their neighbor, and look after number one — themselves.
“As a species, we’re fundamentally insane. If you put more than two of us in a room together, we’ll pick sides and start dreaming up ways to kill one another.”
We start to see that there are indeed creatures to be afraid of in the mist. As the existing tension in the supermarket ramps up and giant flying bugs and tentacles start squirming their way in, people separate into factions, clutching at their Corn Flakes. Mrs. Carmondy (Marcia Gay Harden) attracts a following through her predictions and religious preaching. She claims that the monsters are demons, that God is punishing them for their transgressions, that she is God’s vessel, and that a blood sacrifice is the only way to ease God’s wrath. Her beliefs may sound extreme, but then again so does the sudden existence of nightmarish bat demons. David on the other hand doubles down on his rationality which presents through his practical focus on survival. Both strongly reject the views of the other. Mrs. Carmondy accuses David of being prideful and full of hubris, whereas Mrs. Carmondy is dismissed as unstable and a “miserable buzzard.” Mrs. Carmondy’s beliefs escalate to the point of demanding David’s son Billy be sacrificed, which causes a rift between the two factions leading to her being shot and killed. David’s belief in his own rationality escalates to utilitarianism — to the point when he believes all that all hope is lost, the only practical thing left to do is for the remaining survivors to kill themselves to avoid the suffering they have witnessed others experience.
David’s decision is foreshadowed halfway through the film when one man begs to die as he suffers full-body burns, and a woman takes an overdose of painkillers. Some of the events are accurately predicted by Mrs. Carmondy. However, both characters’ story ends in tragedy. The film shows that doubling down on your individual beliefs in times of fear and uncertainty, battening down the hatches, and looking out for yourself may not be the smartest move. In the final scene, David is left with not only the horror of killing his own son, but the realization that it was pointless, as seconds after his desperate act the mist clears and the military emerges with trucks full of survivors. We see that the woman who left the store early in the film was successful in finding her children, and we’re left in a strange situation where hope for humanity leaves David and the viewer in even more despair. 🩸
Luke Beale is a writer interested in horror films, fantasy, comic books, and psychology. Follow him on Twitter @mutantgenes.
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