Stephen King’s novella, The Mist, is one of the best short stories of all time. Frank Darabont’s adaptation is a great one, that follows the story almost perfectly, including neat little references to King’s other works in what is essentially a fanboy homage to his hero. He even sacrificed his directorial salary to be able to make the film exactly as he wanted to. What a guy.
Unfortunately, Darabont’s piece hasn’t exactly stood the test of time. Relying on special effects rather than practical ones is always a risk when it comes to film, and one that becomes glaringly obvious as the years go on. Whilst the ideas and motivations of the piece remain strong - there’s something about frantically dodging a CGI tentacle that dampens the atmosphere of an otherwise perfect movie.
But I digress. It isn’t the special effects that people will remember The Mist for, nor is it even Stephen King’s own hard work - but Darabont’s very own ending that he safeguarded for a good 20 years before realising it on screen.
In fact, Darabont’s ending is so special in a world of regurgitated plots and cliched final sequences, Stephen King himself cited the ending as one he wished he could have given his 1980 novella - which is heady praise indeed, considering he often isn’t happy with adaptations of his pieces.
Both the film and the book follow the same plot: Trapped in a supermarket when a mysterious mist rolls in, it isn’t long until bloodthirsty beasts are discovered in the apparition, meaning those inside must fight for their lives against otherworldly terrors. With a dangerous cult forming in the wake of the weather phenomenon and the integrity of the store being tantamount to their survival, David Drayton does everything he can to protect his son and ragtag group of neighbours from horrors both inside and outside.
Plenty of harrowing situations are thrown at David along the way, and he eventually decides to escape the store with his son and drive out into the mist to try their luck on the outside. It's here where Darabont forks away from the novella, in which David and his company drive into the distance until they would inevitably run out of gas, ending openly and with ambiguity to their fate in their plight to find 'Hartford'. The film, however, ramps it up to an entirely new level.
Discovering the world as we know it is intrinsically changing, and unimaginable monsters are appearing in their droves - death becomes the only merciful option. Stuck in their car and with only a revolver to their name, all hope is lost for the group as they decide their destiny.
The only catch is their weapon has four bullets, and there’s five of them. One will have to sacrifice themselves to the unknown. David takes on this responsibility, and shoots his companions in the head, killing them instantly - including his eight year old son.
Of course, that's pretty upsetting - traumatised and ready to die, he throws himself out the car and into the mist, ready to be devoured by the next creature that finds him. Hearing a deafening rumbling and readying himself for the end - it isn’t a monster that appears, but the army. Complete with survivors who walked into what was assumed certain death outside the supermarket doors, armed with flamethrowers as the mist clears around them. David has just murdered everyone in his car only to find that their survival was guaranteed had they waited five more minutes.
The most anti-Hollywood and nihilistic ending possible, The Mist leaves you with a hole in your stomach rivalling that in David’s son’s head. It’s brutal, it’s cold, and it’s exactly the sort of shock finisher that more films need to aspire to - because happy endings are clearly overrated.
The set up for this twisted chapter is brilliant, delivering hope for the group’s survival by their escape from the supermarket before squashing it with lurid enjoyment. Killing all the characters wouldn’t have the same effect - leaving David alive and watching his mind break, at both his own actions and discovering help was on the horizon, drives home the sheer sense of sick irony that the situation exudes.
He’d even condemned the woman leaving the supermarket earlier in the film, refusing to help her get home to her family, and now she looks down on him after rescuing her children and making it to safety. No words have to be spoken.
Even better is the fact that Mrs Carmody, the leader of a religious cult formed in the supermarket claiming child sacrifice would be the only way to end the mist, actually turns out to be right. David killing his son brings an immediate reprieve from the deadly forces of nature, marking a coincidence too interesting to ignore. All the integral pieces of the film come together against David in jaw-dropping fashion, and it elevates Darabont’s work to a plane of greatness that wouldn’t be achieved had he stayed faithful to King.
Aggressively ironic, deeply disturbing, and painfully difficult to watch, The Mist's ending is the type of ending more films should aspire to, and one that has stood the test of time impressively, even a decade after its release.
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