Most careers don’t usually go prestige drama, slightly less well thought of comedy-drama, then trashy horror. But then again, Frank Darabont isn’t most people, not only has he been working in scripting as well as his directorial career, but he also wrote horror films people think highly of – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, The Blob, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Darabont’s third adaptation of a Stephen King work jettisoned his previous two’s formula – a story of faith and redemption while in prison, for something much more basic.
The Mist is a monster movie, it’s filled with bloodthirsty, relentless monsters, but what the novella and the film make clear is that the beasts that reside in the titular fog are not what should be feared. While weird tentacles, acid webbed spitting spiders, and big pelican monsters all stop by to cause gory carnage, the true monsters of the film are the humans. Thomas Jane’s David, his son, and the small family unit he forms in a local supermarket are terrorised more by humans acting on personal anger, abject terror, and religious fundamentalism than the crawly creatures outside.
Mrs. Carmody as played by Marcia Gay Harden is the face of evil, like Warden Norton or Percy in previous King / Darabont films, this is a character driven by faith, and their faith will absolve them from judgement and from sin. It’s telling that at one point while Carmody chides various characters for no real reason, a scary biker about to risk his lives pointedly says “hey crazy lady, I believe in God too, I just don’t think he’s the bloodthirsty asshole you make him out to be”. It’s this that the film revels in, people even as the world is ending have agendas.
The thrust of the film and the true horror lies in how Carmody manages to bring seemingly rational people who were once mocking her round to her thinking, throwing innocent soldiers out to the beasts, stabbing them to attract the hungry when it’s suggested (but crucially not confirmed) that the military may be to blame. It’s Carmody who believes that only sacrificing David’s young Billy will end God’s judgement ignoring the fact that Billy is an innocent child.
What The Mist tells us is that no matter what horrors lurk in the unknown, no matter the threats beyond our doors, the real danger is the people we pass every day, that given any situation people could so easily turn on each other. By the end of the film, David is placed in an impossible position, with giant Lovecraftian monstrosities lurking beyond their view does he take the lives of those who are trusting him, or do they try to make the best of surviving out in the cold unknown. That his ultimate choice and the resolution afterward suggest that Mrs. Carmody was in fact correct all along only serves to bring home the horror that in the end, none of us are in control of our destinies, none of us know what we will do to survive, and no one knows what true horror lurks beneath the facade of civilised citizens.
All we can do is wait for the mist to clear, and face what comes.