DVD Review #23: The Mist (Two-Disc Collector’s Edition) (2007)

February 22, 2010 at 8:02 AM | Posted in Based on a Book, DVD Reviews, Horror | Leave a comment

It’s not revenge… it’s nourishment.

Movie:
I don’t know what makes a great horror movie, because I don’t know what “great horror” is. I don’t get scared by horror movies. I did get annoyed by Blair Witch. I get bored by bad movies. But I get excited by good ones. I know what makes a great Stephen King adaptation. So I know this is a great Stephen King horror movie.

(Cont.)

The Mist is the third Stephen King adaptation directed by Frank Darabont, but the first horror story. Now, I can’t say it’s the Shawshank Redemption of horror movies. I don’t know what that would be. I don’t know if it has heart. But it excites me. There’s a master behind the lens. And the movie doesn’t feel like any of the horror churned out by Hollywood or by independants.

There weren’t a lot of King films released in the last decade, although there were a few miniseries events. The Mist was released only five months after the previous adaptation, 1408 (which was by a relatively unknown director). Prior to that was the limited release of Riding the Bullet by Mick Garris, who frankly is too good for television, the Johnny Depp sleeper Secret Window, the much-loathed Dreamcatcher (Larry Kasdan’s tenth movie, which incidentally also starred Thomas Jane), and the Anthony Hopkins drama Hearts in Atlantis, which has neither to do with hearts nor Atlantis.

This is not only the best of the decade, but easily the best Stephen King horror movie ever made. I’m sure most people would call me crazy, and say Misery was the best. Frankly, I’d blame that movie for the torture-porn genre, and it doesn’t really interest me. For me, King’s best writing is in his characters, and the more characters the better. I also prefer supernatural horror to thrillers. To me, a thriller is just that. A thriller. It’s labeled and sold as a thriller. Not a horror movie. Now, every good movie should be thrilling, but crazy women aren’t horrors. They’re actually pretty common.

Some would insist that The Shining is the best Stephen King movie. And while it’s certainly up there with Shawshank for best directed and most “classic,” Stephen himself has virtually disowned the thing (an honor reserved only for The Lawnmower Man). Is it a great film? Possibly. But it’s not a great Stephen King film. It’s a great Stanley Kubrick film. It’s Kubrick’s movie through and through, unconcerned with the plot or themes of King’s story. King’s story was about the ghosts of a hotel bringing out the inner ghosts of an alcoholic, and the horror of hurting one’s own family. Kubrick’s film is a tale of penetrating weirdness surrounding eerie characters in an unreal setting. Most people won’t agree, but the TV miniseries of The Shining is a far better story, and a more faithful adaptation, if not as artistically appreciated. It’s also one of the best looking miniseries ever produced.

As far as The Mist, it has the best special effects of any Stephen King film, and has at least one of the best directors at its helm. In general, horror films don’t break the bank or bring in a big market. So this flick was virtually under the radar, especially with its lack of big name cast. But where 1408 was an A-list or at least B-list PG-13 popcorn movie, this is pure, classic horror all the way.

The director is, perhaps secretly, a fan of old sci-fi monster movies, and wanted this to feel like a modern Bert I. Gordon movie. Superficially, the connection isn’t hard to make. There’s monstrous spiders a-plenty in The Mist (among other creatures), characteristically terrorizing a small suburban town. But it’s how the characters are written that makes this a Stephen King movie. And obviously the gore and combination of CG and practical effects make this anything but a B-movie. But the tribute is plain to see.

The writing and the serious approach raise this above the level of just a fun time at the movies. Despite the preposterous setting, the characters react realistically, and not just by being scared. They react in ugly ways, like real people would. And the film isn’t just about monsters in the mist. It’s about the monsters trapped inside the store. The monsters inside all of us. What makes it a great horror movie is the attention to detail and the blend of multiple elements of horror into one experience. It has sci-fi monsters and gore. But it also has believable, diverse characters and more than a little bit of social commentary and psychology. The way a classic like Night of the Living Dead does. It clearly owes a great deal to that film, but the themes are universal and hard to stray from in the genre.

While I don’t happen to have a list at hand, from personal experience, I would say this is the best horror film since John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. It’s undoubtedly a subjective category. Some people only like gore. Some people like the horror to be offscreen. Some like thrillers or slasher movies. Some like truly disturbing themes. Some like comedic, adventurous horror. I feel that The Mist has the same perfect blend of many of these different elements as The Thing, and although it may not hold up historically, is every bit as successful.

No review is complete without some criticism, even of a great movie. On second viewing, I wasn’t nearly as into the story as the first time. But skipping through the film, trying to find the duller moments that I remembered, I instead discovered the great variety in the film’s scenes. Some may find the film a little slow, but those breathers are necessary in a movie that uses tension as a cinematic device. For a lover of this film, there are plenty of classic sequences that you’re left remembering. True, the movie doesn’t go as over-the-top as The Thing. It’s not exactly as original. But it certainly stands out among what generally passes as horror these days, as The Thing or Alien did so many years ago. It throws out current trends and goes back to those classic elements that have always worked, reworking them in a modern style.

If I really had to find something to complain about, it’s that irritating “circular saw” sound effect found in the movie’s score which more often appears in C-grade efforts and on television. Naturally, the character of Miss Carmody is annoying, but it’s not Will Ferrell we’re talking about here. The character’s sole purpose is to grate on everyone until the atmosphere is completely unsettled. And if we’re really nitpicking, the cover art for the collector’s edition (although superior) gives a little too much away about the film’s shocking but perfect ending.

Commentary:
This is a typical, good, director’s commentary where just about everything is talked about. Now, this is one of those fast commentaries where the guy has lots to say, so pay attention. No bathroom breaks between thoughts here.

Extras:
The first disc has a seven minute featurette about the poster artist Drew Struzan, whose work is featured in the film. It’s not exactly an in depth documentary worth buying the movie for, but it’s still a great tribute.

The deleted and extended scenes are all just longer cuts of dialogue and speeches, nothing FX related and nothing relevant.

There are also three brief webisodes showing a glipse at the making of three scenes from the movie, and some trailers.

Included on the bonus disc is a great 37 minute making-of feature, a 12 minute look at the first big monster scene, another 12 minutes about the creatures, and 16 minutes about the visual effects.

The bonus disc also plays host to the exclusive black and white version of the film, as the director originally envisioned it. It may not be fair to say you could just do this by turning down the color on your TV. There’s a good amount of contrast even if they may not have adjusted each scene or shot to look its best. But at the same time, the film wasn’t really lit or composed to work best in black and white. Although the colors of the regular version aren’t spectacular, the mist itself is far more effective when it’s an amorphous grey blob looming outside the windows. That contrast doesn’t work when the whole movie is greyscale. As to whether blood or special effects look better without color, that’s going to differ from viewer to viewer.

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