The Mist review: Spot the anxiety amid the ham-fisted tosh

Bundling the gravity of sexual assault into the hokum of killer fog is a mistake

Alyssa Sutherland in The Mist

Alyssa Sutherland in The Mist

 

It rolls down into town from verdant hilltops, a white-grey tide, swallowing everything in its path. “There was something in the mist!” cries a confused, perhaps deranged soldier, whose dog has been instantly turned inside out. “We have to warn people.”

But it’s far too late for that. Because without knowing it, the residents of Bridgeville, Maine are being subsumed – inexorably and hopelessly – into a breathless Stephen King adaptation called The Mist (Netflix, streaming from Friday).  At least one character, the over-protected teenage daughter of an attractive, progressive couple, seems to know it. When Alex (Gus Birney) enthuses about “cheesy 1980s movies” to her gender-fluid friend, Adrian, she seems wise to the fact they are fated to live through one. In this puritanically conservative small town, naturally writhing with unspoken desires, her mother, Eve (Alyssa Sutherland), a teacher, has been suspended for giving a sex-ed class. Alex herself has taken a less than academic interest the captain of the football team. And when the prospect of a house party with the jubilant athletes arises, her dad, Kevin (Morgan Specter) encourages her to sneak out to it. The man ought to watch more horror.

The convention of the cheesy 1980s slasher genre, both titillating and moralising, was to make teenage sex punishable by death. In writer Christian Torpe’s adaptation, something more rawly frightening transpires, untouched by the supernatural. Alex returns home the next day aware she has been raped, with no memory of the assault. Torpe’s instincts are understandable – the overblown dimensions of paranormal horror are a magnification of real fears closer to home – but bundling the gravity of sexual assault into the hokum of a killer fog is, at best, a very clumsy approach.

More fitting, among the bands of people resisting these malevolent conditions in a shopping mall and a police station, is the conspicuous absence of any kind of authority. That is likely to jangle some nerves at this leaderless time in America. It adds some freight to otherwise dependable cliches: the unhinged soldier, the compromised cop, the early friction between survivalists and snowflakes, and a command to “Call 911” that goes without answer.

The Mist may be complete ham-fisted tosh, but even in its cloudy construction you can clearly spot genuine anxieties.

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