One Of The Scariest Scenes In The Mist Goes Out With A Bang

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Chris Evangelista and Matt Donato. In this edition, Chris looks at the bleak, shocking conclusion to "The Mist.")

"The Mist" is one of the most successful Stephen King adaptations ever made, if not in terms of box office then in terms of impact. Writer-director Frank Darabont understands what makes King's writing tick — after all, he directed the King adaptations "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile." With "The Mist," Darabont takes King's novella about a group of people trapped in a supermarket and spins it into a creepy, icky, nasty, disturbing experience. Working fast and loose with a small cast and a limited location, Darabont creates plenty of dread and horror. 

But whenever anyone talks about "The Mist" movie, the film's shocking, controversial ending is bound to come up. You either love the ending Darabont came up with — King's ending is much different, and much less bleak — or you think the filmmaker made a huge mistake. For what it's worth, King himself approved of the new ending, saying

"Frank wrote a new ending that I loved. It is the most shocking ending ever and there should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last 5 minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead."

Harsh words, Mr. King! But for my part, I agree with King — Darabont's ending, while horrific, works. So let's talk about why. And obviously, if you've never seen "The Mist," just be aware that there will be spoilers below.

The setup

After a sudden storm that causes a power outage, movie poster artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) takes his young son to the local grocery store to pick up some provisions. But soon a strange mist comes sweeping in, surrounding the store in an eerie, white glow. And with that mist comes Lovecraftian monsters hungry for flesh. And oh yeah, as if that weren't bad enough, a deadly religious cult begins to form among some of the other folks trapped in the market.

The story so far

"The Mist" feels like the perfect movie to encapsulate the hellish era we are currently stuck in — we're trapped and surrounded by flabby, mutated monsters who want to destroy the world and remake it in their own image, alongside religious zealots who want anyone who dares to disagree with their dogma to die a horrible death. Based on the novella by Stephen King, "The Mist" isn't just a monster movie. It's also, in true "Twilight Zone" fashion, a story of societal collapse. Of how human beings, when gathered together and bogged down by fear and confusion, will often resort to their worst possible instincts. "As a species, we're fundamentally insane," one character in the film says. "Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?"

As the market is increasingly cut off from the world and frequently besieged by all sorts of creepy, crawly fiends (a sequence involving spider-like creatures is pure nightmare fuel), religious nutjob Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden, really hamming it up with her nasty character) begins preaching about fire and brimstone. Everyone in the market is ready to call her a loon — at least at first. But the more dire things become, the more the trapped people begin to succumb to her hateful words. King wrote the story in 1980, and the film itself came out at the tail end of the George W. Bush presidency. As such, it's easy to see the film as an allegory for the Bush years. But it's also perfect for the post-Trump era, where religious fantasticism from Christian fundamentalists is on the rise, to the point where it has infected the Supreme Court. Like the religious right in America, the folks who support Mrs. Carmody aren't in the majority, but they are the most vocal — and the most prone to inflicting terror upon those who dare question their vengeful God.

Things come to a head when Mrs. Carmody first demands a ritual sacrifice in the form of a hapless soldier who just happens to be in the store. The military's secret "Arrowhead Project" is blamed for unleashing the monsters, and thus the army is a good scapegoat. Things turn chaotic and the soldier is stabbed to death. But that's not enough blood for Mrs. Carmody. Later, she demands that David's young son Billy (Nathan Gamble) be sacrificed, too. In the midst of the uproar, Ollie (Toby Jones), the market's assistant manager who just happens to be a target shooter, kills Mrs. Carmody with a bullet to the brain. David, Billy, Ollie, and several other characters make their escape to David's car outside. Unfortunately, Ollie and several others are killed, and only David, Billy, a woman named Amanda (Laurie Holden), and elderly locals Irene (Frances Sternhagen) and Dan (Jeffrey DeMunn) make it to David's car. They hit the road with Ollie's gun and drive off into the mist.

The scene

There are many horrifying moments in "The Mist," but the film's ending is what everyone immediately thinks of when they think of the movie at all. After driving for miles and finding only death and destruction, the car eventually dies. As it does, a gargantuan, nearly indescribable monster lumbers through the mist in front of the car as the occupants look up in stunned silence. At this point, everyone seems to agree that all hope is lost. "We gave it a good shot. Nobody could say we didn't," Dan says, resigned, and again I cannot help but think of our current world, where everything seems to be counting down to some inescapable end; a point of no return. Like the people in this car, we gave it a good shot — but we're running out of road.

There are only four bullets left in Ollie's gun, and David and the adults all make a horrible choice: to give up. David kills everyone else in the car, including his son, and then points the empty gun at himself, screaming and horrified at what he's done, and at everything that has happened. He steps out of the car, and sounds of huge, lumbering things come out of the mist. David (and the audience) assumes this is one last beastie with an appetite, and the mourning, nearly insane David is ready to be devoured.

And then, writer-director Frank Darabont plays an incredibly cruel trick on us all: the sounds aren't monsters. They're actually the military, who have finally come to the rescue and are restoring some semblance of order. If David had just waited a few more minutes and not killed everyone, they all would have been saved. Broken by all of this, David shrieks in madness as the film fades to black.

It's nasty. And it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. What is Darabont trying to say with this ending? That we should put our faith in the military? Or that perhaps we should just have faith? Faith that sooner or later, rescue will come. That feels wrong to me. It also feels like it coincides with our modern world, where horrible things continually happen and social media dopes try to insist that someone or something — the government? #Resistance Twitter accounts? Thoughts and prayers? Robert Friggin' Mueller (remember him??)? — will come and save us. But they won't. We're on our own. 

It's worth noting that this is not how King's story ends. While the majority of the film is a faithful adaptation, King ends his tale with the car's occupants still very much alive, headed for the coast and hoping against hope. As cruel as it is, I prefer Darabont's ending. Because to me, it doesn't suggest we should have faith, or hope, or patience. It merely suggests that no matter how hard we try, no matter what we do, we are doomed. We gave it a good shot, but in the end, the monsters always win, in one form or another.

The impact (Matt's take)

We all remember the first time we saw "The Mist," thanks to its gut-punch-athon ending. Chris sums up what makes it all so unforgettably ... tragic? Defeatist? Mean-spirited? Unflinchingly real? Thomas Jane's character is given the ultimate test and he does the impossible to spare those he loves a cruel death. The outcome is a joke by a higher power that even Satan might consider in poor taste. Congratulations David, you've done the unthinkable out of compassion, now here's your reward — living the rest of your mortal life knowing your child could still be there with you.

What are you supposed to walk away from "The Mist" feeling? How are you supposed to reconcile this information? I'm not sure Darabont cares all that much — not out of laziness, but instead because of the bleakness that is life's relentless s***storm where even a millisecond can change everything. There's an earnestness to the hopelessness of it all, and comfort in sharing that communal bond of feeling awful because there's no escape. We're all here, doing our best, living with the consequences.

Even with all that said, I think it's a fantastic ending. I'll take my spoonfuls of hope where they're offered, but also seek dark reassurances elsewhere. Thomas Jane throttles through an emotional rollercoaster performance in all of a few short minutes, as David faces his saviors with innocent blood on his face. That gunshot, when it rings out, my heart stops. Every time. It's the closest to real-world horrors a filmmaker can get, because there's nothing more terrifying than living with devastating choices. Our mind's theater just plays back all the hits at the worst times, because what's life without the constant grasp of existential dread?