A small village hides out in a supermarket while a mysterious mist envelops the building, and harbors monsters.
This is one of those incredibly divisive movies – people love it or hate it – and it all has to do with the ending, which is rather extreme. I think it is fairer to say that actually almost everyone loves this movie (I think), but at the ending it loses half of its audience. And I think many people get mad because they too loved the rest of the movie and wanted it to be all good. Personally, I think the ending is great. But putting the ending aside for a moment, there is a lot to love about this movie. I think it is a horror masterpiece.
There is a lovely set up of tension in the first act. It starts out with a storm, some property damage, and a mysterious mist across the lake. The actors are relatively unknown. The guy could be better. The way he says his lines is borderline bad, but his face seems natural. The characters are all pretty good, and then we head out to town, where the real location of the film lies waiting: the supermarket. Supermarkets are such great locations for horror or action movies. There are so many supplies and it is such a standard everyday life place where people get together. The whole idea of a supermarket invites improvisation, and it feels so familiar to the audience as well.
So we see army cars thundering down the road and we have no idea yet what’s happening. The power is down. It’s a nice buildup. What’s also great is how the movie establishes this small-town feeling within a few minutes in the supermarket. All the local characters are present, the hottie, the crazy old man, the soldier, the religious nut, the old nice guy, and so on. Lots of very welcome familiar actors as well.
The movie isn’t reeaally about the monsters attacking a supermarket full of people. That’s just a setup. The central conflict here is the eternal struggle of humans trying to work together, and that’s what makes the movie so gripping. Soon after the place is locked down, you already see the supermarket shoppers banding together into little groups of like five or six people. And you see the undercurrents of groups deciding on different action and the conflict that is already latent in the whole situation. Even for small decisions like checking out a room together, there is this tension of people misunderstanding each other and feeling accused. The script goes a bit too far though, to the point that it is annoying.
The jury’s still out on who or what’s the biggest monster in this film. And there is a humongous one the size of a skyscraper, but it ain’t that one. It is very telling that this giant is portrayed as a lumbering awe-inspiring animal instead of an evil Godzilla monster. Animals are animals. The real monsters are those who ruin the cooperation between people and cause strife. Good and evil are painted that way here, and there is strife and misunderstanding in just about every conversation in the movie.
And I am talking about the religious lady of course. While everyone is being practical, she’s doing nothing but causing panic and being intrusive. She demands a fundamentalist solution and is impossible to reason with. And for the supermarket, which is like a microcosm of human struggle, she’s a thorn in the side that cannot be assimilated, and the more power she is given, the worse she gets, like a swelling spider fed by fear. We could wonder at this point if the monsters might mean something more. Something metaphorical, about disaster that befalls humankind once we start fighting amongst ourselves.
I guess the film is rather preachy, now I start thinking about it. One by one, the deaths are caused by something typical: pride, stubbornness, overconfidence, suspicion. But the film isn’t always about that, it is also about the tension about the monsters and the gory effects, which are great. The CGI is dated by now, but the monster’s design is pretty good.
And then the final part. The car moves like a wraith through the mist, all its lights shining but illuminating nothing. The great soundtrack of a lonely voice calling out, while we leave the religious nuts behind as lost. It feels like there is a sublayer of Lovecraftian, existential fear here, as if they are flying into empty space. All in all, it’s a great film. It is tense, moody, angering and fascinating, with an enormous kick at the end that will leave you thinking.