*The Mist (R)
Cinemark 16, Chapel Hills 15, Tinseltown
Frank Darabont's adaptations of Stephen King's writings are not just some of the best mountings of the writer's work, but some of the best films period in recent memory.
(The Shawshank Redemption, anyone?)
So it's not too outrageous or too surprising to say that The Mist, which Darabont wrote and directed as an adaptation from a King novella, is not only one of the best movies of 2007, it's one of the best horror movies ever made.
Look, B-movies went A-list a long time ago, even before the real world turned into its own kind of science-fiction nightmare of drowned cities and kamikaze terrorists. So isn't civil disaster the perfect springboard for exploring the most sinister aspects of humanity?
The monsters of The Mist are the people, and how we give in to fear and give up on hope at the very moments when we need one and don't need the other. This is horror of a philosophical, humanistic bent, examining the nightmares of politics and religion and our propensity to dispense with reason at the drop of a hat ... or a tentacle.
For all its fantastical elements, this is as grounded and as immediate and as real as movies get. This is "horror" the way that Rod Serling told it think the creepy societal breakdown of "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," and you've got it.
The civil disaster is an ordinary one: A gusty storm knocks down trees and brings down power lines in one of those outwardly charming, secretly insidious Stephen King small towns. But did it also knock out the power at the local Army post that, it's rumored, houses the remains of a crashed flying saucer and dead alien bodies?
This is the stuff of the polite, time-passing chatter that strained neighbors David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) make as they drive, with David's young son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), into town to pick up supplies to board up windows, and groceries before the shelves are picked clean. They're all in the supermarket when a thick mist descends, obscuring the view out the store's plate-glass windows. And then a bloodied man runs into the store, screaming about monsters in the strange fog.
Then other, more deadly things begin to occur. It's all smartly, brilliantly, paced, and not with just the more traditional aspects of what you'd expect from a horror movie those things with the tentacles out in the mist are vicious buggers but with the collapse of civilization as represented by the little supermarket society.
Tribes start to form along sharply drawn lines, drifting toward either David and his calm logic or Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a vocal proponent of hellfire-and-brimstone biblical literalism and the most terrifying thing about the movie, no question.
Over the course of the film, it's impossible to guess what's going on or quite how Darabont who took some liberties with King's material can possibly resolve his story in a way that will completely gratify.
But he does.
How it ends: Well, I couldn't move from my seat, I was that blown away. It's absolutely right exactly the kind of uncompromising kicker it needs to be to ensure that The Mist haunts you for a good long while.