Fright Fest 2019: The Mist (2007)
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Writers: Frank Darabont (screenplay), Stephen King (novel_
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler, Jeffery DeMunn, et. al.
Release date: November 2007
Article: The Mist (2007) – a meditation on a prophecy, by Kit Power.
This conversation assumes you’ve seen the movie, and indeed read the King novella, The Mist. Also, The Dead Zone. Here be spoilers.
So, I’ve already written about this movie. A couple of years back, on the occasion of King’s 70th birthday, the British Film Institute (BFI) ran a King season, screening adaptations both celebrated (The Shining, Carrie) and obscure (The Night Flyer). Whilst finances prohibited me from going to see everything I wanted (in particular, a chance to see Maximum Overdrive on the big screen – I love it but, let’s face it, it’s pretty bad) I did, after some deliberation, decide to add tickets to the black and white screening of The Mist to my purchase of Carrie/The Shining double bill on Imax. I could just afford it, and I wanted to see something I hadn’t seen.
I don’t really have a lot to add to that review, and if that’s what you came here for, then enjoy that, and thanks for your time. The reason I jumped at the chance to write about this movie again is because that viewing happened in 2017, and kind of a lot, globally and politically speaking, have happened since then, and while the movie hasn’t changed, the world sure has, in some pretty scary ways.
So this is going to be about themes, and politics, and science, and despair, and hope. Fair warning.
Let’s start with a thread I talk about in the above: King and his theories of human nature, and how they relate to The Mist.
So, King is on record as being basically cautiously optimistic about human nature. “I think most people are basically good” he’s said on more than one occasion, in both print and in interviews, and that faith in people’s essential goodness is reflected in most of his work (with the exception of the Bachman books, but I’d argue that’s part of why those stories are under the pen name). When it comes to The Shining, for example, King clearly considers Jack Torrence weak rather than evil, despite how that story plays out – and indeed makes sure to underline that point in Doctor Sleep. Part of what King dislikes about the movie adaptation is how much of a jerk Movie!Jack is from the start, and given how personal The Shining is to King (given that when he wrote it, he was himself a high functioning alcoholic and drug addict with a young family) you can see why that bothers him. Similarly, throughout King’s work most if not all of his human villains have back stories that explain, if not excuse, their personalities, with time and time again antagonists revealed to be damaged; people who are often the product of abuse themselves.
Most real evil in King stories is supernatural in origin, and often the human antagonists are warped by supernatural forces to tip them over into true villainy, if they are not themselves supernatural entities to start with. Bachman books are different; elsewhere I have hypothesized that Bachman books are King, as a non-denominational Christian, trying to imagine what a truly godless world would look like; but in what I’m going to refer to with reluctance as the Kingiverse there is a God of some kind in His heaven, who has a love that is both great and terrible. And most people are basically good.
Except then there’s The Dead Zone, and there’s The Mist.
The Dead Zone is about a populist politician who ends up running for president, and who, our hero discovers, will if he wins bring about the nuclear apocalypse. That’s a novel about a lot of things, but I’d argue at it’s heart, it’s about King trying to square the circle of ‘people are basically good’ with the real life phenominum of Nazi Germany (Stillson, the politician in The Dead Zone, is clearly modeled on Hitler in terms of his rise to power, what with his populism, his far right street gang that works as security, and the fact that he runs as a third pary insurgent candidate; I’m pretty sure King has gone on the record about this at some point).
And let’s face it, your choices in terms of circle squaring ‘people are good’ Vs. the reality of Nazi Germany are limited, and they basically shake out somewhere at ‘yeah, people are good, but fear will make good people take bad decisions’. Which isn’t too flattering, but also provides a germ of truth, I’d argue; I can certainly think of decisions I’ve made when scared that I wouldn’t have made with a clear head. Fear distorts our perceptions; of risk, of what constitutes a threat, and of how we should (over)react. As a survival instinct, that’s what it’s designed to do, and it’s been chillingly effective for the species as a whole – after all, lo, here we still be, despite all the odds.
Which brings us, a mere 800 words in, to The Mist.
In a way, The Mist carries the same dilemma, albeit on a smaller scale. Here, an attack from outside has caused a group of survivors to gather in a defendable, reasonably well resourced venue. In such a position, absent fear, there’s a very good chance this group could hold out just fine; barricade, guard, ration food and water, and hope for a cavalry there’s still a reasonable expectation may show up. It’s absolutely a tough spot, and one that on it’s own would make for a pretty top drawer, high octane action horror story/movie.
But King has far greater ambitions than that. Instead of just playing out a man Vs. monster survival horror, King instead places the biggest monster of all inside the supermarket; a woman so ruled by fear that she’s able to turn it into a charismatic weapon of infection, spreading the disease throughout the survivors, slowly but surely turning them against each other.
Mrs. Carmody is one of King’s finest villains. Like Stilson, there’s no obvious backstory to explain why she is how she is (though there are hints that she was already at some level of Christian fundamentalism, perhaps part of one of the more extreme evangelical cults that believes the rapture or other endtime is very much nigh). Also like Stillson, there’s nothing supernatural about her, either internally or externally. However, what separates her from Stilson is that he is shown, from the opening scene of The Dead Zone, to be motived primarily, if not entirely, by an instinct for and delight in sadism for its own sake; to be free to inflict pain and suffering without fear of retribution.
Mrs. Carmody, on the other hand, whilst also exhibiting some sublimated sadistic instincts, is clearly primarily motivated by fear. It is the terror of her circumstances that metastasizes with her existing personality flaws to create the evangelical terror that ends up ruling the store with an iron fist, with devastating consequences for the people stuck inside.
All because, outside the doors, the weather has gone insane.
And, I mean, it’s 2019. How am I not supposed to talk about this?
As I observed in the above write up in 2017, the core thesis of The Mist is pretty much expressed on screen between a small subgroup of the survivors, and it boiled down to; people act civilised as long as they have the benefits of civilisation, and as soon as they don’t all bets are off. I still – even in 2019 – find that a touch reductive and pessimistic (though great for a horror story).
But only a touch.
Because since 2017, we’ve installed far right populists in both The White House and Number 10 Downing Street. Sure, your guy didn’t win the popular vote, and our guy didn’t even win a general election… but they’re both there. Both are now actively pursuing agendas that make a virtue of stoking fear and anger in the general population, turning us against our geographical neighbours, telling us we are right to fear The Other, and using the increasingly dangerous language of betrayal and treachery to describe any political opposition.
Also, since 2017, the weather has gone insane.
Every year is setting records; for extreme temperatures and extreme weather events. Most of what our far right populists leaders and agitators are pleased to call an ‘immigration crisis’ are actually the first refugees of climate change. The science is settled and couldn’t be clearer; this is going to get worse before it gets better, and absent massive global action the type of which we have never seen, it won’t ever get better; our kids are going to have to learn to swim, not to mention reinvent subsistence farming on whatever little arable land remains unflooded – always assuming enough insects survive to allow pollination to remain viable.
Yeah, I know. Now I sound like Mrs. Carmody. But I have facts, so, you know.
Still, the truth remains, our societies will face two stark choices in the next decade. The first will be whether or not we rise to the challenge of climate change; by making big, sometimes difficult lifestyle changes, and demanding our governments also take bold, systemic action to reduce carbon emissions.
The second will be how we respond to the victims of our destructive policies and environmental shortsightedness; whether we open our hearts and doors, recognising their humanity and our shared responsibility, or whether we instead pull up the drawbridge, and deafen our ears to their pleas.
The response so far fills me with fear; the notion that King and Darabont may have been fundamentally right about human nature; that when the shit starts to go down, we end up turning to the Mrs. Carmodys of this world, and abdicate our own power and responsibility to the empty promises of demagogues; themselves consumed by lies and fear, and led by those same dark impulses down the path of atrocity.
Because I’m 41 years old, and ultimately, by the time it gets really bad, I’ll be dead or dying anyway. It’s possible my last couple of years may suck a bit more than I’d like, and may come sooner; still and all, I’ll have lived a life, by then.
But my kid, she’s nine years old. By the time the shit’s really going down, she’ll be my age, maybe with kids of her own. And I hate to bum anyone out, but it’s not impossible – it’s far from impossible – that she’ll end up facing down some version of the impossible final dilemma David Drayton faces at the end of this movie.
That sits in my stomach like a goddamn stone.
So yeah, The Mist is, undoubtedly, one of the best King movie adaptations ever, and yes, it’s also one of King’s finest works.
It’s also, in 2019, increasingly looking like a stark warning, and a desperate, pleading wake up call.
Because ultimately, if we keep allowing ourselves to be led by the Mrs. Carmodys of this world, the weather is going to kill us.
Kit Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary.
In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo, http://www.disciplesofgonzo.com
“Wow, this book will get you thinking. Will get you to question the purpose we are here” -Tina Marie, Amazon reader.
Happy Halloween everyone! And welcome to this years Fright Fest!!