Tag Archives: Sonia Marcon

Clean up in Aisle Five: The Mist – review

Written by author, Sonia Marcon

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The Mist will surprise some viewers because it’s not directly a scream-fest horror. In fact, the only thing that makes this film considered to be horror is that it’s based on the novella by Stephen King, who everybody knows as “that horror novelist”. The story of The Mist can be considered as more of a comment on human nature rather than a horror story. Sure, it has big scary monsters as the thrust of the story but, in my opinion, the monsters are not the point. This film contains much scarier things than a bunch of monstrous animals. The Mist is a film that really can’t go wrong for me. To begin with, I am a huge Stephen King fan and when King’s story ideas are adapted for the screen by Frank Darabont, there isn’t much room for a wrong turn. Everyone has to have seen, or at least heard about, The Shawshank Redeption, an amazing film adaptation by Darabont based on the equally amazing novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by King. The Mist is, in my opinion, a very close second both as a novella and as a film.

Seeing that The Mist is a creation by Stephen King, I think it pertinent to talk about this story in relation to him whether you’re a fan of his writing or not. Something that I truly feel is a gift of King is his ability to create, be it story ideas, character relations or plot developments. There are many people who don’t like King as a writer, and that’s fair enough. Each to their own. But I think a gift of King’s is to bring the unbelievable and unimaginable right outside your front door. Film adaptations of King’s works, however, can be very hit and miss. Frank Darabont gets it right because his story adaptation and screen direction add a whole new level to the story idea. Even though a story in itself can contain brilliant characters and story nuances, things like emotion can easily be missed by both a writer and a reader. Frank Darabont brings this emotion to the forefront where the viewer cannot help but notice it.

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There are two parts of this story that greatly benefit from the visual medium of film, which are the approach of the mist toward the shopping centre where this story is mostly set and the reactions of the townsfolk to the monsters. The scene where the mist comes in and envelopes the supermarket is terrifyingly brilliant and it is made even better by the sound effects of the film. As a viewer, you really do share the reactions of the townsfolk, who think that everything they hear can be easily explained. The thudding heard must be earthquakes, the mist itself must be a poison gas cloud from the military base on the neighbouring hill. This is the talent of King at work; they are normal people with normal reasoning who don’t immediately jump to extraordinary conclusions. Darabont works with these ideas to create a feeling of utter fear and despair by keeping the normality of the characters; he really utilises the whole ‘seeing is believing’ mindset. He also makes sure, in his adaptation of the story to screenplay, that there are no heroes because in this situation there is too much confusion for heroism.

the mist

One of the most fascinating parts of this story is, in my opinion, the fact that the monsters are just animals trapped in an unfamiliar place. They are not there to destroy the humans, they are just trying to survive. This works with the idea that there is no room for heroism because whenever any of the characters hurt or kill the ‘monsters’, it creates a real sense of sympathy for them because the ‘monsters’ are just acting in the only way they know how to when in a strange environment with hostile inhabitants. When they manage to get into the supermarket where the humans are, they are not there to kill the humans. They are just chasing the smaller monsters for food, which is obviously what they do in their home place, and if they do harm the humans, it is purely out of defence and fear. I personally find this scene the hardest to watch because I can’t help but feel sorry for the monsters. To me, it’s the humans in this story who act more monstrously than the apparent monsters.

Being regarded as a monster film means that it must contain something that is monstrously scary. To me, the animals that are regarded as monsters are nowhere near as fearful as Mrs Carmody, the religious zealot character who rounds up followers in the supermarket. This character made me realise that The Mist is not precisely a monster film. The Mist is ultimately a character drama that happens to feature monstrous animals. I truly feel that the character driven element of this story, initiated by Stephen King but enunciated by Frank Darabont, is what creates the most interest. The Mrs Carmody character is there to show how despicable and selfish human beings can be when placed in a situation of peril. I don’t think her presence in the story is a comment on religion by either King or Darabont, but more a comment on the ways in which human beings are ultimately not very nice. This film seems to be one of the many I like because it has believable characters in unbelievable situations.

The Mist - Face Off

I honestly could not think of a better director for this film than Frank Darabont. His adaptations of Stephen King not only make great films (admittedly The Green Mile is very long, but still) but also memorable narratives in their own right. I think The Mist is a necessary addition to Monster Awareness Month because it adds a touch of variety to the mix with its character driven story. If you like Stephen King stories, that’s one reason to watch. If you like Frank Darabont films, that’s reason two. If you like a film with some of the most imaginative monsters that look like bugs with big teeth, that’s a big reason three.

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The Thing is… review of The Thing

Written by author, Sonia Marcon

A fan of horror/action films cannot be a true fan if they aren’t accustomed to John Carpenter. This is the man who brought to life such films as Halloween (who doesn’t know the fearsome Michael Myers?), Escape from New York and Christine and his remake of The Thing From Outer Space (popularly known as The Thing) doesn’t disappoint. Carpenter has a talent for creating horrific characters of such originality that if you paused the film, in order to see the monster in detail, you’d either never sleep again or you’d go insane. That, to me, is an epic feat when deciding how your creatures will look in order to cause the most distress. Being scary is one thing. Causing discomfort, confusion and uncertainty by visual means alone is a whole other talent.

There is something I find quite special about a film that directly aims itself at a collection of viewers by what is shown in the opening scene, even when the rest of the film could be looked at and taken in a completely different light. An example of this can be found in the film Predator. The first shot is of a small space vessel plummeting to Earth, which is then followed by the cast of characters heading into a war zone on a diplomatic mission of sorts. It has nothing to do with creatures from space so, as a viewer; you are not expected to be really interested as to why a group of marines is heading into South America on a reconnaissance mission, because you know from the opening shot that the premise of the film revolves around an alien. The first shot of the film is there to make you look forward to the alien. It’s just a shame when the rest of the film, which has nothing to do with the alien, is much more interesting. This is not the case with Predator but it is the case, in my opinion, with The Thing.

The first scene of The Thing, after the opening shot of a space vessel plummeting to Earth, involves a dog being pursued and shot at by men in a helicopter. If the audience was not assuming that everything in this film is directly linked or is a lead up to an alien then a dog being chased by a helicopter is utterly creepy. It still is a wonderfully creepy scene but if the viewer had no idea that aliens were involved then the scene would be creepy as well as pleasantly confusing. With the opening shot of a space vessel, the viewer is just waiting for the alien to turn up instead of being interested in the characters and what is going on. That said, the scene still holds much merit and seeing that it is Monster Awareness Month then I don’t feel I should rag on this film for not being something that I want it to be but rather enjoy the film for what it is. The Thing is ultimately a horror flick so I will do my best to regard it as such.

The Helicopter blasts at the dog

A mistake in the first scene that, I think, The Thing makes is the assumption that everyone likes dogs. The viewer is truly meant to feel sorry for the dog and believe that the arrival of the dog to the band of scientists in the snow is a nice thing, mostly because dogs are thought of as good, loyal companions. Therefore, it would come as quite a shock when this is not the case. Or it would if you did not have an indescribable fear of dogs and so feel no compassion for the creatures. This isn’t the case with me but being in contact with someone who really cannot feel any kind of empathy for the dog being chased by a helicopter in the film makes me realise that if you did not care for the dog then the whole point of the films beginning would be moot. This leads onto a point that I think works very much in the film’s favour, which is its sense of realism. The characters in The Thing are very believable for the situation they are in. Even though it is a film about a shape shifting alien, the behaviour of the characters makes the viewer feel very involved. This is helped by the fact that the alien creature does not rely on computer graphics in the same way as monsters in recent films do.

The Thing in action

Another thing that helps this sense of realism is that the film feels like it moves in real time. As the characters discover new things, so does the viewer. This makes the viewer feel, I think, more involved, especially seeing that there is little to no CG used. The gore and horror of The Thing seems very tactile because the actors are actually handling the monster, as seen when a spawn of the alien is autopsied. The characters’ behaviour is also very realistic by the way they question what is happening in a disbelieving manner, much like a real person would if they were there. This is evident in the scene where all the characters are getting tested to see who’s been taken over by the alien monster and who’s not. I think it’s very believable to disbelieve every piece of evidence put before you, when the situation you are in is unbelievable. Make sense? Good.

The Thing works well as a horror/monster film because it uses the most appropriate “scary character” possible, which is an extra-terrestrial. People, in general, are frightened by the unknown, and when it’s an unknown creature that lives by “taking over” other (Earthly) living things, then that is a recipe for a successful monster flick. This film really does do it alright, from the setting to the actors to the situations. The pace of the film does not leave the viewer feeling unattended but rather included in the characters’ struggles. For me, this film is more interesting than scary, and that suits me just fine.

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Not for Love nor Teeth–Jaws review

Written by author, Sonia Marcon

The use of the word “classic” is, in my opinion, either thrown around too liberally or held back too snobbishly. If a film is more than thirty years old it is nominated to be a classic purely based upon its age, no matter how good the film actually is. When it comes to genre the term classic is used way more sparingly and when it comes to horror, the term classic is usually discarded due to lack of respect for the genre. If a horror film is deemed a classic, it is not usually because it is regarded in the same light as, say, Casablanca. A horror film will be deemed classic because it is seen as a pertinent choice for anyone who is in the mood for a bit of Freddy Krueger action while snug on the couch with the lights off, not because it is well scripted, directed or acted. Jaws leaves this belief dead in the water, so to speak. While being quite the scare-fest, it is also a wonderful story with appealing characters acted by a talented cast, an alluring setting and a script plus musical score that brings this film right into the room with you.

Jaws is put into the ‘monster film’ genre even though it’s not a typical monster film. Sure it has a bigger-than-normal shark terrorising the beach of a small island town but that is pretty much where the similarity between it and other monster films end. The monster in Jaws is a very big shark and that is all that it is. The shark is not a mutant, nor does it harbour any special skills or tricks that a normal shark is without. It does not become personified as some sort of evil fish that is out for revenge or any other emotion that is designated to people. It is just a shark and remains so for the entirety of the film. I love this film because the behaviour of the shark is explained in accurate scientific terms by the marine biologist character, played by Richard Dreyfuss. For viewers in doubt of this, the behavioural traits can be looked up and viewed on You Tube by people who have recorded similar events and experiences in real life. I guess the only differing advantage that the shark in Jaws has in relation to other sharks is its monstrous size and even then it is not much bigger than actual sharks that have been found since this film was made.

Just your average Great White

But enough of the soapbox rant and onto the film. The first thing the audience comes into contact with is the famous Jaws musical theme. This theme is so famous that it is known by people who have never seen the film. I use the word ‘contact’ when describing the theme because it has an almost visceral quality about it. The theme of Jaws gives possibly the best description of what the audience has to be ready for without a single bit of script or acting. It was written by composer John Williams who really is a master of the movie theme. I don’t think there is anyone who does not know the themes to Star Wars, Indiana Jones or Harry Potter, all of which were composed by Williams and all are recognised as what they are representing. When watching Jaws, the first shot of the film is a very unassuming shallow underwater landscape which would seem quite boring if not for the accompanying music. Following this is what feels like a suspense scene from an Alfred Hitchcock film, without the Hitchcock. It really is classic (for want of a better word) horror. The direction of Jaws, accomplished by Stephen Spielberg, is not the surprise for me. The fact that this is only Spielberg’s second feature film is what makes Jaws such a surprising accomplishment. Spielberg makes a classic out of his second film, full stop the end.

The namesake of the film, plus the accompanying shark, are really only the catalyst for the progression of the story. What this film is actually about is the ways in which different characters interact with each other in response to the sharky threat. The first half of the film is set on an island which automatically gives more a sense of community and claustrophobia and so makes it easier for the viewer to feel involved with what is happening. Once the film has made the viewer feel like they know what is going on by a sense of familiarity (who hasn’t been to a small, insular coastal town?), it rapidly jumps to a different setting altogether. This shift feels accurate and quite realistic. The plot, pace and tone of Jaws moves at the same rate as the occurrence of events in the town and how these events are dealt with; if a shark turns up and terrorises the locals then the only answer is for a bunch of guys to go out on a boat and kill it. What makes Jaws particularly effective is that the guys that hunt the shark are as realistic and believable as everything in the film so far but what makes this film work well as a thriller is that it takes seventy-nine minutes for the shark itself to actually be seen taking a victim.

Without the shark this film would have no plot but without the three male characters in the boat, this film would have no point. Jaws can be watched purely for the shocks and suspense of the first half and the horror of the climax but I really feel that the moments between are what make this film pure viewing pleasure. I don’t know of many other films that are so entertaining with just three characters in a small space. Chief Brody, played by Roy Scheider, and Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss, are a brilliant double act in the lead up to the boat trip but when they are joined by Sam Quint, played by Robert Shaw, the relation between and the chemistry of the characters changes as smoothly as the setting. Plus everyone has to be familiar with the iconic entrance of Quint with his fingernails down a blackboard and if you aren’t then watch the film for that moment. Regardless, this part on the boat with these moments of dialogue and character development make Jaws the definitive film that it is. Jaws doesn’t really become a monster film until the climax where the first major visual contact is made with the shark and this part almost doesn’t suit the rest of the film. It’s why writing a review of Jaws as a monster movie is so difficult. In my mind, it’s not a monster film. It’s a film about how the personalities of characters become understood through circumstance and it’s this fact that makes Jaws transcend the horror genre altogether.

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