There was a powerful storm last night. For movie poster artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) this meant quite a bit of damage to his Maine home, including a tree that smashed through his studio window and ended up hitting the painting he had been working on, ruining it. As it happens, he is simply happy that his wife (Kelly Collins Lintz) and son (Nathan Gamble) are unscathed, but as they go over to the remains of the boathouse of their lakeside home, David realises it was destroyed by the dead tree of his neighbour, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), a tree he had specifically requested be chopped down ages ago. He is so annoyed that the mist rolling over the lake towards them barely makes an impact - but it will...
Frank Darabont was best known for his sentimental, big screen versions of Stephen King tales but his pet project was to adapt the Master of Horror's novella The Mist. When he finally did, it was a major flop at the box office, proving that without the necessary uplifting aspect, maybe this wasn't the kind of thing audiences wanted to see. And make no mistake, this was an uncompromising vision, fiercely intelligent yet also just plain fierce, that saw the plight of a group of townsfolk trapped in a supermarket as a microcosm of Western society with all its paranoia laid bare.
Darabont's pessimistic point is that once everyday people are placed in a dangerous situation for any length of time, it's bound to bring out the worst in the majority leaving the more reasonable minority to flail in their wake. The situation in the film arises when David and his son, with disgruntled but trying not to show it Brent along for the ride seeing as how a tree has also crushed his car, wind up in the local supermarket just in time to see the thick mist envelop the town and... well, who knows how far it has spread? We are left in the dark as much as the characters (most of them, at any rate) as to what precisely has led to this effect, but one thing's certain: there's something out there hidden by the fog.
Once David realises that it's suicide to venture out of the shop's doors, the shoppers become a kind of community, and as such are split into groups. When he and a few others go into the back room to investigate the generator (the mains electricity has shut down), they find that something is blocking the vent and one opts to go outside and remove the obstacle, in spite of David's protests. It turns out he was right all along when the volunteer is dragged away by a tentacled monstrosity and now the battle is on for the hearts and minds of the shoppers. One section, led by Brent, does not believe that there is anything but an industrial accident occuring, while another in convinced that it's the End Times as prophesised in the Bible.
At first, the apocalyptic doomsayers number one: local crazy lady Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden, very strong), who clutches her scripture and has a quotation for every occasion. This raises the question, why do there have to be two sides to every debate? As David and a few others find themselves in the middle, with Mrs Carmody's influence growing as the terror increases, their voices of reason that yes, there is a problem but there's no need to lose sight of common sense begin to be steadily silenced. The Mist is a surprisingly quiet and low key film in between the monster business, and you're left wondering which out of the creatures or the prejudices and ignorance of humanity are the bigger threat. And Darabont cleverly capitalises on that nagging fear: what if the panicmongers are correct? Notably, at the stage where David gives up all hope and allows the dread to overwhelm him, he makes his most egregious mistake in an ending that is too cruel for the rest of the film to bear its strain. It's too callous, too bleak in a story that has championed the small spark of rationalism. Music by Mark Isham.