Stephen King

The Mist

Written and directed by Frank Darabont, The Mist is a third story by Stephen King that Darabont adapted for the screen after The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. It would have been a pretty solid if unremarkable horror movie except for two things: a truly awe-inspiring monster sequence near the end, and the ending itself, which I suspect left many people feeling angry, depressed or both (I’m in the “depressed, but wow what a bold ending” camp, myself).

As far as horror film settings go, a supermarket probably wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind, but this is in fact where most of the movie takes place. The Mist doesn’t waste much time on the setup: when a bad storm leaves their house without power, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son drive into town for some emergency supplies. Everyone else in their small Maine town had the same idea, and so the store is full of locals, weekenders and a few soldiers from the nearby military base. Soon, all hell breaks loose: a bloodied and distressed man runs into the store, air raid sirens begin screeching, and in a blink of an eye the supermarket is enveloped in an unnatural mist.

It’s not a spoiler to say that there are Terrible Things lurking in the mist that will attack and devour anyone attempting to leave. It begins with a pretty humdrum tentacle creature, but through the course of the film the monsters get more and more fantastical and unnerving, particularly if you’re not a big fan of insects and spiders. The actual explanation for the mist and the creepy-crawlies is not particularly interesting, but they’re mostly there to examine the dynamics within the group of terrified survivors, and what ordinary people will be driven to do when their ordinary world collapses. It doesn’t take long for the various tensions to arise, initially between the locals and out-of-towners. A far greater source of friction however is the local religious nut, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), who sees the events as God’s divine punishment for the sins of mankind. At first her doomsday mongering goes ignored by the rest, but as the situation gets more desperate and the body count increases, more and more people join her congregation, and start thinking that maybe a human sacrifice to the monsters outside is not such a bad idea.

I was about halfway into the film before I realised that there was barely any music in it, a decision which is quite effective and complements the documentary feel. Thomas Jane (who reminded me a bit of Christopher Lambert, of all people) is solid as the lead, but a bit too bland and lacking in charisma, as far as “everyman” actors go he’s no Tom Hanks. The rest of the cast do their best to breathe in some individuality into their stock characters, and I was amused to see the lady who played Charlotte’s snobby mother-in-law on Sex and the City pop up here. Overall, it’s a well-executed horror film which probably wouldn’t be that memorable if it wasn’t for its ending; hate it or love it, it does stick in the memory.

Insomnia by Stephen King

stephen-king-insomnia-coverI like Stephen King quite a lot and read most of his novels, but his tendency to overwrite sometimes annoys the hell out of me. This book stands at over 700 pages, and I wondered if this was going to be yet another novel of his which would have been so much better if it didn’t noodle around describing pointless details and dragging out the scenes. Insomnia takes its sweet time to set things up and yes some scenes and dialogues do ramble on. But whether it’s because I was in a right mindset or simply enjoyed the setting and the characters, I didn’t mind the slow pace and ended up really liking the book.

The book begins with Ralph, a 70-something man living in the small city of Derry in Maine (where else?), losing his beloved wife to cancer. Right before her death he witnesses a bizarre incident involving his neighbour and friend, Ed Deepneau, who seems to have changed from a pleasant mild-mannered guy into a violent raving lunatic. Shortly after his wife’s death, Ralph begins to suffer from insomnia, waking up earlier and earlier as the days go, until he gets by on a couple of hours of sleep. As if this wasn’t bad enough, he also starts to see bizarre things that he initially dismisses as hallucinations of his sleep-deprived brain: auras around people which reflect their personalities and health, and strange beings that are clearly not of this world. Meanwhile, all is not well in Ralph’s home town, as tensions rise over the coming visit by Susan Day, a pro-choice advocate who is due to give a speech in Derry. Protests by a pro-life group, headed by Ed Deepneau, are a predictable response, but it soon becomes clear that Ed is planning something much, much worse.

As I’ve mentioned before, the book takes ages with its setup, but at around half-way point the plot really takes off, in a rather unexpected fashion, and doesn’t stop rolling from then on. Insomnia felt like it was full of references to King’s other books that I haven’t read, but I didn’t feel that not getting the references detracted from the experience or confused things. I really liked the world of auras he creates here, the nods to Greek mythology, and the explanation for the hidden forces that govern life. Also, at his best King’s ability to get inside his characters’ heads is absolutely superb, and the characters here were very well done, from Ralph down to the stray dog who walks the streets in search of scraps. There were also some good observations on old age and life in general, I particularly liked this quote:

It was life, often unsatisfying, frequently cruel, usually boring, sometimes beautiful, once in a while exhilarating.

Without spoiling anything, the bittersweet ending was one of the most moving endings I’ve seen in a King novel; I haven’t cried over a book in ages but damn if it didn’t make my nose tickle a bit.

books I’ve read lately

headerCMYKHoly Cow! by Sarah Macdonald

I’m usually not a huge fan of travel books – to me they can often feel like sitting through a stranger’s long tedious slideshow of What I Did on My Holiday. This author though spent some time actually living in the country, and India always fascinated me (and ok, I really liked the colourful book cover). I’ve been to India about nine years ago, and if I hadn’t travelled to Egypt a couple of years previously I’d probably have found it as much of a culture shock as Sarah did on her first trip. It leaves her absolutely hating India and she swears to never return again; however when her partner moves to India for work she follows him to New Delhi and tries to make a life there.

At first Sarah pretty much hates India all over again and is appalled by the poverty, noise, pollution, sexism, but after a near-death encounter with double pheumonia she decides to go on a sort of a spiritual quest and explore the many faiths present in India – Sikhism, Judaism, Hinduism, the beliefs of the Parsee among others. It made for an interesting reading, though I couldn’t help but feel that in the end all of her religion-hopping was rather superficial (though to be fair, she might have simply intended her book to be light reading rather than Religions 101). Though her partner is the reason for her moving to India, their relationship isn’t explored in great depth either and he remains a very sketchy presence. But you can see how Sarah warms up to India and learns to appreciate it, and overall the book was very entertaning.

Before-I-Go-Sleep-resized2-193x300Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson

This was one of those insanely addictive books where you skip a TV program you’d normally watch because you just have to know what happens next dammit. The premise certainly grabbed my attention – it is about a woman in her late 40s who, because of a past trauma, had lost most of her memories past the early childhood and is unable to form new ones for longer than a day. Every day, Christine wakes up as a clean slate, with no memories of the past day or the last week or the last twenty years. Her only human contact is with her husband Ben and a neuropsychologist who is interesed in her case and encourages her to keep a journal, which she finds and reads anew every day at his prompt. The journal in fact is most of the book and we follow Christine from day to day as she tries to piece her life and her past together. It’s to the writer’s credit that the journal entries avoid being too repetitive and instead feel like each one builds on what happened the previous day.

I find the themes of identity and memory absolutely fascinating, what are we after all without our memories? Because Christine is the sole point of view of the book, it always makes you question everything: are her memories what they appear? Are they real or simply projections and wishful thinking? How much can she trust anyone, or herself even?

Unfortunately, the ending was a letdown. I figured that a book like this must have a big dramatic twist somewhere, and I half-guessed it without trying too hard. The reason I only half-guessed it was because the full twist was too far-fetched and silly to even consider. It got more improbable the more I thought about it, and though the book ends on an ambiguous note the resolution still feels far too neat and happy. Shame because, until the last few pages, the book had me 100%.

1421010234753On Writing by Stephen King

I thought it was a fantastic craft memoir on par with William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade. It’s split into halves: the first one is where King recounts the events from his life which shaped him and his writing, and the second section is advice to budding writers, served in an engaging, no-nonsense manner. I wouldn’t call myself even a wannabe writer; though I’ve always had a vague ambition of writing my own fantasy novel one day I just don’t have the kind of burning desire and need to write King is talking about. Still, I love reading about the craft of writing, why particular stories work or do not work, how to structure sentences and paragraphs etc. My two favourite peeves of King’s in this book were the passive tense (really how much more gormless a sentence like The meeing will be held at seven o’clock sounds as opposed to The meeting’s at seven); and the use of adverbs in dialogue attribution. I wonder what he thought of Harry Potter books because J.K. Rowling freakin’ loves her adverbs.