Thursday, April 3, 2008

Every Man For Himself

You don't know this, but I have a faith in humanity meter in my house. It's true. It's down in the basement next to the furnace. It's a little box attached to the wall that tracks the current levels of where we stand on our fellow man, woman and child. The previous owner of the house tried to jack up the price saying "but this house has a faith in humanity meter" but I got it thrown into the asking price for free. So, hells yeah on my part.

I check the faith in humanity meter from time to time. Not by a set schedule mind you, but every so often when I'm curious or when I think to do it. Well, I checked it today and it's pretty low folks. I can't pinpoint the exact reason, but I can tell you that the recently new to DVD The Mist isn't helping things.

I like Stephen King books. I know they aren't changing the world and probably aren't increasing my brain mass. His characters are flat and often rehashed from different stories. Each one seems to show some kind of psychosis as they continually repeat a single line throughout. At first it seems kind of creepy, but about three books in it just seems redundant. His settings are often simplistic and the plots even more so. Does it still sound like I like Stephen King books? Well, I do. Where Stephen King's strength lies is in his ability to paint dark pictures in your head. To whip off page after page about how scary topiary animals can be. Or a damn Saint Bernard. Or a possessed car. Stephen Kings books are an escape. Nothing more and nothing less. When you pick up a Stephen King book, you know what you're going to get and he delivers on all fronts.

What director/writer Frank Darabont did when he wrote and directed Shawshank Redemption was to bring substance to Stephen King's writing. To create more complex characters. To create a feeling other than dread. And what made that movie stand out is that no other director had really done that with King's work. If you were to ask some favorite King movies, The Shining might be front and center. And while it's very good in all its creepiness, you don't really care for any of the characters. You like Jack Nicholson because, well, he's Jack Nicholson. You like Scatman Crothers because he's cool as shit. And you want Shelley Duvall to die in about every scene she's in. The only reason you want them to live is because good old fashioned storytelling tells us they should.

And based on most of Darabont's directorial efforts, you would say that the man is not lacking in his faith in humanity. In Shawshank Redemption, deep friendships are formed behind bars. Libraries are made. Moments on the hot roof drinking beer are cherished. It's as flowery as one can get when one is directing a movie about criminals. But I suppose that not unlike the Disney girl who eventually has to grow up and show that she's not a Disney girl anymore, Darabont went dark with The Mist to show that he wasn't just about sweet characters and flowery endings. His faith in humanity dropped dramatically. And it's for this reason that I had trouble with the movie.

Within only hours of being trapped in the grocery store, a small little town begins to turn on itself. David Drayton (Thomas Jane) the main character tries to calm a situation in the back of the grocery store and is greeted with threats of violence from the simple mechanic Jim Grondin (William Sadler). Obviously there is a class struggle there. The upscale Hollywood guy (David paints movie posters) is perceived to be talking down to the mechanic. But there is no moment where it seems the two might work together. The tension is immediate as if pre-destined. Later as the group comes into contact with one of the creatures, David attempts to tell his neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) what he has just seen, but Brent won't have any of it. The story is unbelievable for certain, but Brent immediately dismisses any opportunity to prove it right or wrong. At the beginning of the movie, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) is declared a kook by everyone, yet a couple days later she is held up as a prophet and has most of the people in the grocery store ready to kill for her. Is everyone really this desperate? This directionless? Obviously, extreme circumstance create extreme reactions but I wanted that scene or that moment in the film that helped bridge the gap from happy little town to desperate mob and I never got it.

I think back to the slasher films. To the Friday The 13ths. There was no separation there. They did not split and scheme. Once the monster is revealed, they bond together to survive. Of course there comes a time when that formula has been played, but we've also seen "I saw the monster and it was us" time and time again and I guess I was hoping for a little something more from Darabont. For a little more depth to the characters. For a little more nontraditional approach being that Darabont is not a horror director.


Of course the ending is about as bleak as one can get. If you're familiar with the ending of the movie Open Water, you begin to get a feeling of the hopelessness of The Mist. On the final scene, David stands alongside his car as the lone survivor of his group. He yells for the monsters in the mist to come and kill him. But instead he is greeted by an army tank and soliders and as the camera pulls back we begin to see that the mist is clearing off. More and more cars pass filled with survivors and in a quick glance, we see a short-haired woman from the beginning of the movie. She was one of the first to leave the grocery store after the mist had appeared to get home and protect her kids. She asked for assistance to her car but no one volunteered to come with her. The fact that she survived with her children and David did not seems like a mixed message here. If we are to believe that David ultimately did the wrong thing then why make him such a likable everyman? Why not make him the traditional two-dimensional Stephen King character. One that helps move the story along but one we don't really care much about? The only answer I can conclude is that the ending was created for no other reason than to shock. To show that Frank Darabont isn't just about sweet characters and flowery endings. But bleakness without message is rather empty, don't you think?

For some more healthy debate on this, check out Evil On Two Legs.


Burbanked said...

My faith in humanity is just fine, but my faith in Frank Darabont took a big hit when I was looking forward to seeing this movie and started reading the early reviews.

Eventually I did what I rarely do, and completely read the whole ending of the damn thing. What a silly, pointless shock for shock's sake it sounds like.

RE: "Darabont went dark with The Mist to show that he wasn't just about sweet characters and flowery endings," that's the feeling I had following Ron Howard's RANSOM - another ugly, ill-advised movie from a director who certainly could have done it better.

Fletch said...

I don't really have much interest in the movie, but I love the tale of your FIH meter.

Megan said...

Somewhere in my house is a copy of Dark Forces. I'll have to dig it out and read this story again.

Piper said...


I'm with you and Ransom is a good example as well. No real point to the darkness other than a director trying to redefine himself/herself on the cheap.


Dark Forces? Wow, I had only read it in Skeleton Crew. I had no idea it existed elsewhere.

Film-Book dot Com said...

Piper, burbanked, I totally disagree with your assessments of this film. The Mist is one of the best horror movies I've seen since The Host and Cloverfield. The human element comes first in The Mist, the monster second. This is rare in a horror film. Very rare. My full review for The Mist is here:

By the way, the FIH tangent at the beginning of your review was very entertaining.

Fletch said...

Sorry, I can't help myself...

"The Mist is one of the best horror movies I've seen since The Host and Cloverfield. "

You sure you don't want to go back, you know, like more than 3 and 8 months (or whatever) into the past on that? That's like saying Tuesday is the best day since Monday, isn't it?

Piper said...

film-book dot com,

I'm kind of with Fletch here. While I liked The Host very much and found Cloverfield somewhat enjoyable, I wouldn't hold them up as any kind of bar for the genre. What made both those films worth talking about is how they updated the monster movie. The Host did that very well but I wouldn't hold it up as a great horror movie.

And while I will agree with you that The Mist puts people first, I wished that because of that Darabont would have given his characters a little more depth. Marcia Gay Harden's character is a straight down the middle religious crackpot. A caricature of what we might think she is. Not what she really should be.

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