The Lord can work in mysterious ways. But do those ways involve ordering a legion of creepy critters to rid rural Maine of its sinners?
That question is on a lot of people's minds in The Mist, an R-rated monsterfest that sprang from the disturbingly fertile brain of Stephen King. It seems Castle Rock—perhaps the only town in America that spends more on "monster cleanup" than potholes—has been overrun by outer-dimensional horrors lurking in a shroud of mysterious fog.
The mist rolls in as David Drayton, his young son, Billy, and his neighbor, Mr. Norton, are picking up some provisions at the local grocery store. The gruesome death of a grocery bagger and a few shoppers quickly makes clear that this mist isn't just a temperature inversion. Before long, the supermarket refugees get a gander at what they face: Mosquitoes as big as poodles, spiders that could hunt cows, and various critters with six-foot-long crab pincers or collections of writhing—barbed—tentacles. Where's the Orkin Man when you need him?
But as horrific as the monsters are outside the supermarket, the folks inside aren't that much nicer. Fear has driven most of them half-mad, and a few of them weren't all that sane to begin with. It doesn't take long for most of the shoppers, egged on by the eccentric and spiritually messed-up Mrs. Carmody, to begin eyeing their fellow survivors as possible human sacrifices.
David begins to wonder if he and his son might just be safer outside.
A sidebar: Speaking of personal safety issues, it would seem that we here at Plugged In Online should be checking our rearview mirrors for irate bestselling authors. Says Mr. King, "[Director] Frank [Darabont] wrote a new ending that I loved. It is the most shocking ending ever and there should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last five minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead.” Those last five minutes, though, present an ethical dilemma that demands critical attention. So, dear reader, you will find spoilers contained in the following analysis.
Whatever the film's faults may be—and there are many—David and Billy showcase just how powerful the bond between father and son can be. Indeed, the idea of family proves to be The Mist's most redemptive message. A number of characters showcase a bit of selflessness on occasion, too, risking their lives to save the lives of others—though they're not always rewarded for doing so.
The good news: There's a lot of discussion about faith and religion in The Mist. The bad news: Most of it comes from a woman who's portrayed as being a brownie shy of a TV dinner.
Mrs. Carmody is Castle Rock's town kook who, when the fog settles over the grocery store, solemnly intones, "It's the end of days." She whips out her Bible and reads from Revelation 15. And she prays in a bathroom stall, "Let me preach Your word, let me shine Your light." It doesn't take long for her to climb up on her bully pulpit, sometimes using liberal doses of obscenity to try to convince anyone who will listen that they need to repent to save themselves from the creatures outside—who are tools of God's righteous anger, she believes.
Carmody argues that everybody's being punished for putting men on the moon and splitting the atom, as well as for messing around with stem cells and abortions. Fellow shoppers, crazy with fear, begin to believe she has a connection to heaven, and before long she has her own in-store cult—extraordinarily handy for her when she decides to start killing people.
[Spoiler Warning] When a soldier confesses that the military base up the hill opened a window to another dimension, Carmody calls him a "Judas" and her mob attacks him. She then asks her newly minted minions to "feed him to the beast," which they do. Next day, she calls for David's little boy to be the next monster snack.
So, as you can see, Mrs. Carmody's religion owes more to insanity than Christianity. But there's not a lot of effort expended in The Mist to separate the two. One biker, as he prepares to venture outside, does tell Carmody that he believes in God, too, but "I just don't think He's the bloodthirsty a--hole you make Him out to be." And a woman punches Carmody in the face, saying her style is "a little too Old Testament to my taste."
None of the good guys pray—even though you'd think it'd be fairly natural in such a situation. One hero says that men and women, when stressed, tend to want to kill each other. "Why do you think we invented politics and religion?" he says.
A soldier and a checkout girl share a passionate kiss in a back room, and there's a suggestion that the two may have stayed back there long enough to do more than that.
The first victim, a grocery bagger, is torn to shreds by a set of clawed tentacles. We see his skin being ripped off like pages from a notebook. The second, a biker tethered to the grocery store with a rope lifeline, is mangled offscreen by an unseen beastie. When the other shoppers try to pull him to safety, they just drag back his lower body—the rest of him was snipped off at the waist.
And this monster mash is just getting started. A checkout girl is stung by a giant mosquito, and her head and neck swell to grotesque proportions before she dies. A shopper is eaten alive by a prehistoric bird-like thing. Audiences watch another shopper catch on fire, then see him suffer from his burns, most of his skin having fallen away in bloody patches. A couple of folks die via crab-like pincers. Another handful falls prey to strings of web that burn through clothes and skin like acid. The coup d'état takes place in a nearby pharmacy where a man has been impregnated with spider eggs. The hatching spiders proceed to eat their way out of his cheeks and belly. And, eventually, the guy falls to the ground and his torso bursts open, unleashing thousands of baby spiders.
People also kill each other: One soldier is choked and stabbed twice before being thrown to the monsters (still alive). A shopper is shot twice, and audiences see her lifeless body on the floor as blood pools around her head. Another beans Mrs. Carmody with a can of peas. David punches a grocery store worker a few times.
The monsters meet their share of bloody ends, too. Part of a tentacle is severed. A few giant mosquitoes get smooshed. One prehistoric flapper is set on fire and flies through the grocery store as it burns to death.
Perhaps the most disturbing scenes, though, involve people taking their own lives. One shopper kills herself via overdose, and we see her lying in a supermarket aisle, vacant eyes staring aimlessly. Two soldiers hang themselves, and we see the results of that, too.
[Spoiler Warning] At the very end of the film, David, his boy, and three other shoppers escape from the supermarket and drive until their SUV runs out of gas. They're still surrounded by mist, and they hear monsters hoot and bellow all around them. David's brought a gun, and the adults decide—or acquiesce—to die in their Toyota by their own hands rather than let the monsters get them. There are not enough bullets for them all, so David kills the other four (we see explosions of light from a distance through the car windows) then steps out of the car and calls on the monsters to finish him off. But the big "joke" is on him. The beasts are gone, replaced by a column of military personnel, driving through the already retreating mist.
Crude or Profane Language
About 20 f-words and 30 s-words. Characters misuse God's name more than 30 times. (At least a third of those exclamations are paired with "d--n.") Jesus' name is misused another dozen or so times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
One holdout in the supermarket is shown with a long-neck beer in his hand, apparently a little tipsy.
Other Negative Elements
People simply don't treat each other very nicely in this film. One character says that it's easy to have faith in the goodness of humankind when "all the machines work," but turn off the power, coop us up and then scare the living tar out of us, and we get a little cranky. This jibes perfectly with a biblical view of corrupted humanity, but it still isn't pretty to watch.
The Mist is based on a popular novella by horrormeister Stephen King, but the original story concluded with a bit more ambiguity and a touch more hope—with David and his pals simply driving into the mist to an uncertain future. It's not exactly a happy ending, but it's far more positive than the brutal finale of the film.
Before those last few appalling moments onscreen, The Mist delivers a curiously mixed message: If one aspires to be a good guy in the film, one must be smart (an uneducated worker joins Mrs. Carmody's mob), but not too smart (a hot-shot lawyer leads a half-dozen skeptics into the mist and certain death). One must be high-minded, but not too high-minded (most of the film's good—and brave—souls die is showers of blood). And, finally, one must believe in demons both within and without, but not in anything higher or better.
I doubt King (who helped craft the screenplay) and director Frank Darabont (who also helmed King's The Green Mile) wanted to convince moviegoers that, as Mrs. C. says, there is a God and He's after your blood. At least I hope not. More likely they were trying to say—just as disturbingly, but more predictably—that the universe is an amoral place, and the best of intentions won't save you from getting gobbled up by a flesh-loving monster. Or—and this is equally possible—they just wanted to show a bunch of people dying horrible onscreen deaths, and it didn't matter to them what the story thread "taught."
It's like Darabont writes on stephenking.com, "It's time to get down and dirty and make a nasty little character-driven gut-punch horror movie."