Until a film like The Mist rolls in—stealthily, with little fanfare—you forget how impressive big-budget horror can be when it finds its balls. Kicking off like a creature feature in the vein of this past winter’s The Host but darkening into a study of apocalyptic social panic worthy of The Birds, the movie will come as manna to the crazy faithful who respect John Carpenter’s The Thing and little since. I worry for gentle fans of director Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile. Sit this one out.
Into a small Maine town an odd meteorological phenomenon sweeps. A pungent cross-section of aw-shucks Americana finds itself trapped in a supermarket after screams are heard. Yes, the story is by Stephen King. But of his dozens of shorts (this one comes from Skeleton Crew), few better display King’s underrated virtues of classical proportion; by the time icky beasts start emerging from the metaphoric fog (the effects work is truly special), we’re already locked into several smaller dramas. Rational doubt yields to biblical fury from a local loon (Harden) and action heroics spring from as unlikely a source as Infamous’s Toby Jones.
Alliances turn the aisled mart into a blackened, torch-lit slum of competing ghettos—and the film is only getting started. You won’t need a handy grad student to make hash of the movie’s military-spawned nightmare. But The Mist also strikes daring notes of antireligious clarity and social sacrifice, well off the campaign trail. It must be said that King’s ending has been radically altered and improved, raising a final, devastating note of liberal doubt. In our own misty moment, that’s rare indeed.