Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Mist (4 Stars)

This is a 2007 film directed by Frank Darabont, based on a short story by Stephen King. It's his third adaptation of a Stephen King story, after "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile". While the first two films weren't horror films, it can be argued that "The Mist" is a typical Stephen King story. Roger Ebert calls it a Horrible Things Pouncing On People movie. I like that description. If it's not an official sub-genre of horror films it ought to be. Let's abbreviate it to HOTPOP (by also capitalising the first O in "Horrible"). I can't think of any other films that fit this genre at the moment, but there must be dozens of hotpop films.

This may be a hotpop film, but there's more to it. It's a film about a microcosm of society, placed under duress, which we can observe in their development. "Fear changes everything", as the film poster says. Fear brings out the best in some and the worst in others. I wonder how it would affect me. I hope I never have to find out.

The story's plot is so simple that it can be explained in a few words, but the two hours spent telling the tale fly by. After a storm and power cut the artist David Drayton drives to a supermarket to buy supplies. While in the store a thick mist falls, and the store is surrounded by giant creatures. The approximately 50 people lock themselves in the store to survive the next few days.

After the initial shock, the people in the store rally around two leaders. David Drayton is a logical thinker who uses reason to find a way to escape. Mrs. Carmody is a religious fanatic who sees the creatures as the fulfilment of the Book of Revelation, God's judgement on the evildoers, and she believes that the creatures can only be appeased by sacrificing the evildoers -- i.e. the members of David's group -- as human sacrifices. Following a perceived miracle, in which Mrs. Carmody is spared by a creature sitting on her chest, the people defect to her group one by one.

I've owned this film on DVD for a few years. My version advertises that it also includes the "stunning black and white version". Black and white? What's that about? I never bothered watching it, but today I thought I would give it a chance. There's an introduction to the film by Frank Darabont which explains it. He says that it was his intention to make the film in black and white to replicate the atmosphere of the early American horror movies that he grew up with. The film studios didn't allow him to do this, because they said that young audiences consider b/w films old-fashioned and wouldn't watch it. So he filmed in colour, but throughout the filming he used stark contrasts which would stand out in a b/w transfer. The colour version was released in the cinemas, but the b/w version is what he calls his Director's Cut, the way the film was intended to be seen.

It's been more than four years since I last watched "The Mist", so it's difficult to make a 1-to-1 comparison of the two versions. All I can say is that I can see what he means. The scenes with the mist look eerie in b/w, and the monsters look even scarier. The only places where I miss colour is in the close-ups of people's faces. The skin and eye colour seem painfully absent. But I agree that the overall impression of the film is improved by showing it in b/w.

According to Frank Darabont's introduction, the film is set in the 1980's. However, it has a retro look about it that makes it hard to pin down. Cell phones are mentioned, but not shown. The store customers are wearing clothes that look more like the 1960's, while the soldiers are wearing uniforms in 1940's style. The goods in the store are in very simple packets that look like they come from the early post-war years. This old look is intensified by the lack of colour.

I'll probably re-watch the colour version of the film soon. If I have time. So many films, so little time.

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