If you’ve watched old Roger Corman movies like Attack of the Crab Monsters and thought, ‘I wonder what Corman would have done with a few extra dollars in the budget?’ well, wonder no more. The Mist, the latest Stephen King literary adaptation to hit the big screen is Roger Corman on steroids. Gone are the papier-mâché creatures—they’ve been replaced by expensive high tech computer generated giant bugs—but make no mistake, despite the tarted-up effects and big budget, The Mist is a good old-fashioned grindhouse film.
The set-up is simple. The day after a violent thunderstorm a mysterious a pea-soup fog envelopes the small east coast town of Bridgton, Maine trapping a couple of dozen people in the local supermarket. Outside they hear the screams of people not lucky enough to be indoors when the mist settled. Soon the grocery store takes on a Lord of the Flies vibe as the survivors start to splinter off into different sects, each with a plan for survival. When giant bugs materialize out of the mist and attack it’s everyone for themselves.
Based on a 1980 short story by Stephen King first published in the horror anthology Dark Forces, The Mist, like all good exploitation films, is remarkably timely. In his third adaptation of a Stephen King work director / screenwriter Frank Darabont plays up a storyline involving a fundamentalist Christian woman (Marcia Gay Harden) whose extreme ideas push the desperate group into uncharted and dangerous territory. While watching her twisted logic push the mist’s hostages to violence, one can’t help but equate her rants to the kind of fundamentalism that has poisoned the minds and actions of so many people around the world today.
Political statements aside, Darabont clearly loves the horror genre and knows how to slowly build tension until the audience is white-knuckling it waiting for the payoff. Once inside the supermarket he not only creates interesting dynamics between the trapped townsfolk, but also allows a feeling a dread to settle over the proceedings, punctuated only by bursts of breathless action.
Like the great grindhouse flicks of yore The Mist is a crowd-pleaser. Well defined characters—particularly the heroic Thomas Jane and over-the-top Marcia Gay Harden—and energetic direction had the audience I saw it with hooting and hollering at the screen. It’s entertaining and the best horror film of the year. Roger Corman would approve.