October 13, 2019

A Brief Review of The Mist (2007)

The Mist blu-ray cover

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One clear marker of a good film, regardless of the genre involved, is that it has high replay value. This often poses a challenge for horror and suspense thriller films because relatively few hold up on repeat viewing once the big reveal has been...well...revealed. And yet, my favorites in these genres do hold up in this way. Knowing how they end takes little away from my enjoyment. Even if I've seen them several times, I find something new to appreciate with every viewing.

I do not usually think of The Mist (2007) as ranking among my favorite horror films. It isn't scary enough, and there are just so many better options. On the other hand, it is one of those rare flicks that holds up so well on repeat viewing that I seem to enjoy more every time I see it. And not only that, but it features an outstanding cast with top-notch acting and decent special effects. So while I might not consider it one of my favorites, it probably isn't very far off. If you are an atheist who enjoys horror films but hasn't seen this one, I'd recommend checking it out (especially if you don't care for supernatural horror but do enjoy good depictions of the harm fundamentalist Christianity can cause).

The plot is simple, but it works well here. A group of people is shopping in a small town grocery store when a strange mist suddenly rolls in and covers everything outside the store. Is it some sort of chemical attack or biological disaster? Is it supernatural? Is this an alien invasion? Nobody knows. What quickly becomes clear is that the mist conceals something terrible. The few who are brave (or stupid) enough to leave the store are quickly and brutally killed by something. It is not safe to leave the store. There are some decent creature effects here that work by letting us see just enough of whatever is out there that our imaginations fill in the rest. This isn't a gore fest or a traditional creature feature, and that's okay because it ends up being something better.

As things ramp up, we discover that the store is not a safe place to hole up and await rescue. First, it provides little defense against whatever is out there. Something with large tentacles attacks the loading dock at the back of the store, and large flying bug-like creatures manage to get in through the windows at the front, followed by a couple larger bird-like creatures. Tension and fear build as we realize that the people in the store are not going to be able to hold off the external attacks. Second, there is danger from within. You see, one of the shoppers is a fundamentalist Christian who begins preaching about "end times" and quickly moves on to how a blood sacrifice is necessary to appease her wrathful god. While she is initially dismissed as crazy, the fear caused by the external threat soon brings her a sizable group of supporters. As unsafe as it is outside the store, it may be even worse inside for the small group who hasn't surrendered their minds to fear-based religious delusion.

I think there are at least two things that make The Mist work so well. The first is that the filmmakers do a great job of quickly bouncing us back-and-forth between the growing external threat (e.g., more glimpses of horrible things in the mist that are gaining access to the store and killing those they encounter) and the growing internal threat (e.g., the Christian mob becomes increasingly threatening before turning violent themselves). The tension skyrockets as we realize the protagonists are going to have no choice but to leave the store and venture into the mist and whatever awaits them there.

Second, I've always been impressed with how they depict Christian fundamentalism here. The woman initially seems like the sort of fundamentalist we've all encountered. She's nutty but mostly harmless. But as the external threat intensifies, she begins preaching loudly about how her god is punishing everyone for various sins. Although most continue to dismiss her, we see that she is starting to attract a small band of supporters. Everybody makes the mistake of ignoring them (perhaps there's a lesson in here somewhere), but they grow and soon reach the point where they are the majority. As soon as that happens, it is painfully clear that they are as dangerous as anything in the mist. But of course, it is too late by then. Yep, I really do think there is a message here. If nothing else, we see where religious fundamentalism leads when driven by fear and empowered by numbers, resources, etc.

While The Mist might not make my shortlist of horror favorites, it is one of my favorite depictions of scary Christians and would rank toward the top of any list of horror recommendations for atheists I might develop.