15 Years Later, Frank Darabont Stands By The Mist's Divisive Gut-Punch Of An Ending [Exclusive]

This article contains spoilers for the ending of "The Mist," both the film and the novella.

One of the most memorable horror movie endings of the 21st century is that of "The Mist," writer-director Frank Darabont's 2007 adaptation of the Stephen King novella. Even for viewers who were already well-acquainted with "The Mist" through King's short story collection, "Skeleton Crew," the movie's ending was shocking, visceral, and without a doubt, very different from the one out there in book form. King's novella ends with protagonist David Drayton catching a possible word through radio static; he then whispers two words in his son's ear. "One of them is Hartford," King writes. "The other is hope."

Darabont changed the ending and made it much more downbeat, with Drayton (Thomas Jane) shooting his son and three other survivors of the mist monsters in a short-sighted suicide pact. Viewers were understandably dismayed, but Darabont has no regrets about ditching the happier book ending.

/Film's Eric Vespe spoke with the three-time Oscar nominee for his new oral history of "The Mist" on its 15th anniversary. Looking back on it in 2022, Darabont likened "The Mist" to "The Thing" and "Night of the Living Dead," two films that famously don't end well for their protagonists. Darabont, of course, also helmed "The Shawshank Redemption," one of the most hopeful, inspirational movies of all time. He told /Film:

"Hey, I love a happy ending just as much as anybody. It's satisfying. I get a happy ending, God knows. But I also love 'Night of the Living Dead.' I also love 'The Thing.' I also love those movies that really just dare to challenge the audience. Sometimes s*** doesn't work out and sometimes you made the wrong decisions even if you meant well. Life is like that."

'We need movies that dare to piss people off'

"The Mist" could have employed a more Hollywood ending, where the survivors head for Hartford in their car and live to hope another day. But as Darabont also put it, "Life doesn't always hand you a happy ending, does it?"

One person who fully supported Darabont's decision to deviate from the original "Mist" book ending was Stephen King himself.

"When Steve read the script," Darabont continued, "and I said, 'I won't make it if you don't want me to,' he said, 'We need movies that dare to piss people off. We need movies like that, too.' We need that 'Night of the Living Dead' thing, where it's not just tied up in a nice bow and there's just this reassuring happy Hallmark bumper sticker thing."

The ending of "The Mist" is perhaps the ultimate cautionary tale about not surrendering to hopelessness. Five years ago, when the film turned ten, I wrote about its harrowing ending and how it illustrates the danger of giving up hope. For a fuller explanation of the ending, you can also read this analysis. Suffice it to say, the ending shows that rescue was right around the corner for Drayton and company, if only they had managed to hold on a little longer.

This makes "The Mist" a rather interesting bookend to "The Shawshank Redemption"—a comparison Darabont himself recognizes. In "Shawshank," while Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is in prison, he clings to his hope of escape, and we see it pay off for him and Redd (Morgan Freeman). "They went through some grueling stuff," Darabont said, "but at the end of the day, there's a big hug."

"The Mist," by contrast, is a true monster movie, so it's only fitting that hugs give way to horror.