For all its Lovecraftian horrors, Frank Darabont’s 2007 adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Mist is actually a film about power and the terrible consequences it can have for both those that wield it and those that follow them.
2017 will not only see the tenth anniversary of Darabont’s film but also the release of a new television series based on the same source material. But before we get the chance to revisit that terrifying depiction of the end of the world, we will first witness the beginning of Donald J. Trump’s presidential career, an event many believe will be apocalyptic in its own right.
Stephen King wrote The Mist at the end of the 1970’s, a decade fraught with strife and anxiety. In those past ten years America had lost a war, watched a scandalised president resign, and suffered double-digit unemployment and crushing economic hardship. Camelot had fallen and the hopes and dreams of the sixties had faded with the ghosts of Kennedy and that other King. Fast-forward twenty-seven years to 2007 and the American people are suffering another turbulent decade, on the brink of financial meltdown again and embroiled in a new war against an enemy that hides amongst them and strikes without warning. These paranoia-drenched times offered the perfect backdrop for a fable about ordinary people besieged by unseen horrors. Skip forward another ten years and what’s changed? Now there’s a maniac trapped inside with them.
A storm comes and unleashes an otherworldly mist into small-town America, and its citizens find themselves barricaded in that last bastion of provincial life – the supermarket. Once upon a time this would have been the church, now the townsfolk stack bags of dog food against the windows and seek sanctuary from the lurking horrors amongst the aisles of tins.
Outside in the mist is everything these people have been afraid of their whole lives. The mist is terrorism. The mist is unemployment, it is immigration and gun control. It is the unknown. It is fear itself. And inside the supermarket people are looking for answers. And three leaders will emerge who think they have those answers.
“You scare people badly enough, you can get ’em to do anything. They’ll turn to whoever promises a solution”. It’s hard to listen to Ollie Weeks’ words now and not think of Donald Trump. Yes, the dangers of the mist are real but they are exacerbated by the fear of the survivors. Soon it’s hard to tell where is safer, inside…or out.
David Drayton is an average guy, an unwitting hero who finds that his Kipling-esque ability to keep his head while all around are losing theirs marks him out as leadership material. But the only thing keeping him together is the responsibility he has for his son’s safety. Once that has left him, the dam breaks open and everything spills out. But that’s a little way off yet. Until that happens people will listen to him, and follow him, and trust that he can keep them alive.
Brent Norton is an out-of-towner, a lawyer, and black. In 2007, America was still two years away from its first black president, but Hollywood had already given us Morgan Freeman (Deep impact) and Dennis Haysbert (24) as America’s leaders on the big screen. Tiny Lister Jr. Norton’s a rationalist who protects his fragile dignity with an aggressiveness born of oppression. The casting of Andre Braugher in a role originally written as white gave Darabont the opportunity to show just how small-minded the townspeople could be. Not many are willing to follow him. Maybe if Norton had been Morgan Freeman, and more of them had seen Deep Impact, we would have had a very different film. As it is, you know exactly who would have voted for Obama.
And Mrs Carmody is Donald Trump. She is whom Ollie is talking about. Her tongue is sharp and lashes out at regular intervals, stinging those who stand against her. She understands the power of nightmares. She knows the allure of a friend in the dark when the nightmares come. Someone to be strong when they don’t know what to do next. She’s an opportunist who hitched a ride on the ghost train, feeding off the screams of its passengers. She whips the scared and the small-minded into a murderous frenzy, hounds the liberals and promises her followers salvation by sacrificing the unworthy. She has a destiny with glory and she will spill as much blood as necessary to reach it. She is the worst parts of us.
The do-gooder, the rational man and the hate preacher. Each believes they are doing the right thing. And each proves as hazardous to follow as the next. By the end of the film all three are destroyed. But the people of the town go on. How long will they remember these three figures that stood up and tried to show them the way?
Not long I think.
They’ll fade with the mist, along with the memories of their own troubling behaviour. The power will come back on and people will go back to shopping at the supermarket and those things that threaten to tear through into their reality will be safely shut away.
Until the next time.
Review by Matthew Blackwell