This Distracted Globe random header image

Utterly Pissed At the Ending

May 10th, 2009 · 7 Comments

The Mist (2007)
Screenplay by Frank Darabont, based on the novella by Stephen King
Directed by Frank Darabont
Produced by Darkwoods Productions/ Dimension Films
Running time: 126 minutes

The Mist, 2007, poster The Mist, 2007, DVD

What the *&#! Is This About?

In the town of “Castle Rock,” Maine, a powerful electrical storm sends a tree through the lakeside home of graphic designer David Drayton (Thomas Jane), his wife (Kelly Collins Lintz) and their nine-year-old son Billy (Nathan Gamble). Surveying the damage the next morning, David tells her, “It’s just stuff, you know. We’re safe, that’s all that matters.” His wife appears anxious about a strange mist drifting off the mountains and headed toward them across the lake. Father and son are more interested in a tree belonging to their obstinate attorney neighbor Norton (Andre Braugher) that has flattened the Drayton boathouse. The men put aside past differences when David offers Norton a ride into town for supplies. Taking Billy along, they pass an army convoy. The soldiers are stationed at a base in the mountains known to the locals only as “the Arrowhead Project”. The convoy appears to be in a hurry, prompting Norton to comment, “Maybe their power’s out too.”

At the Food House, David chats with a teenage clerk (Alexa Davalos), amiable assistant manager (Toby Jones), Castle Rock’s resident nutter Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), schoolteacher (Frances Sternhagen) and realtor (Susan Watkins). David also observes an MP abruptly cancel leave for three soldiers. Everything at the store comes to a dead halt when an air raid siren sounds. A monstrous mist overtakes the town on the heels of a panic stricken local (Jeffrey DeMunn) who makes it to the store covered in blood. Warning the others to shut the doors and not to go outside, a shopper decides to make a break for his car. Disappearing in the mist, the last that’s heard of him are his terrified screams. One theory voiced is that the mist may be a chemical explosion from the local mill. Mrs. Carmody believes this is the end of days. Norton tries to keep the crowd calm, while David is more focused on trying to calm his hysterical son.

The Mist, 2007, Laurie Holden, Alexa Davalos, Thomas Jane

Searching for a blanket in the storeroom, David hears something outside attempt to rip down the loading dock door. A mechanic (William Sadler) copes with the disaster by trying to get the store’s generator working, with a bag boy (Chris Owen) eager to go outside and clear whatever’s blocking the duct. When David is unable to convince them that this is a bad idea, the door is raised; tentacles slither inside, tear into Norm’s skin and drag him into the mist. When confronting Norton with this, the attorney’s logic prevents him from accepting it. He organizes a group to venture outside for help, but a rope one of them ties to their waist only makes it 300 feet before returning a torso. As Mrs. Carmody begins spreading her Old Testament gospel of a stern and vengeful god – slowly converting frightened followers – David, a third grade teacher (Laurie Holden) and a few others start worrying more about the monsters inside the store than the ones in the mist.

Who Should Be Held Responsible?
The Mist began with a phone call Stephen King received in 1980 from his literary agent Kirby McCauley. King recalled, “Kirby McCauley was putting together an anthology called Dark Forces and he wanted all these original stories from people who wrote in the genre. I said, ‘You know, Kirby, I don’t think I can do that because I’m blocked, I’m not writing anything.’ And I hadn’t. I had just finished three books. There was Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, Night Shift, and I was kind of stuck, really. I happened to be in the local market one time and a lot of people were shopping. I looked at the front windows and thought, if something bad happened, those windows would all blow in — because that’s the way I think. It’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s been a profitable thing over the years.” The resulting story – The Mist – unblocked the author and a slightly re-edited version appeared in King’s 1985 short story collection Skeleton Crew. At 155 pages, it qualified as a novella.

The Mist, 2007, Kelly Collins Lintz, Nathan Gamble, Thomas Jane

A couple of years later, Frank Darabont was getting his feet wet as a screenwriter. He recalled, “Nightmare on Elm Street 3 was my very first credit as a writer and there was The Blob remake and there was The Fly II. I remember sitting on the set of Nightmare on Elm Street 3 one night and thinking I’d love to have something in my pocket that I could nurse along and try to get made as a director.” Darabont had taken advantage of Stephen King’s “Dollar Babies” initiative, in which the author makes available to student filmmakers the movie rights to select King short stories for the fee of only $1. In 1983, Darabont directed a short based on The Woman In the Room. Searching for a feature length project, it came down to either The Mist or Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. In choosing the latter, the emotionally resonant 1994 prison drama starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman earned seven Academy Award nominations and set Darabont on the path to prestige.

Darabont’s company Darkwoods Productions entered into a first-look development deal with Paramount Pictures, which was where the filmmaker brought The Mist in 2004 when he was ready to return to his horror roots. Darabont recalled, “What always appealed to me about it was, okay, here’s this story about monsters, very basically, on the surface of it. Underneath, Steve King was telling a completely different story. He was telling a story about the fragility of human behavior under pressure. What he was saying was that civilization has a very thin veneer and it can crumble very quickly, especially when you apply fear. And people turn against one another when subjected to stress and fear. It winds up being great sociological context for how we are as a species, how screwed up we are, how fearful we are.” Paramount agreed to put up $30 million to produce The Mist, provided Darabont reconsider the ending he’d written, which was … downbeat, to say the least.

The Mist, 2007, Marcia Gay Harden, William Sadler

Darabont concluded, “Obviously not a studio movie. That’s the ultimate horror for a studio, is a horror movie that might actually horrify people. You give ‘em something that might upset the audience they run screaming in the other direction.” He added, “Through this whole set of circumstances I wound up with Bob Weinstein at Dimension. He was the only guy who said, who had the balls to say, ‘Yeah, I love this ending, I love this movie, let’s make it.’ With the understanding of course that it had to be done very quickly and very inexpensively. Let me put it this way: A lot of great horror movies that I love, that I grew up watching have a tradition of being done under extreme duress of time and on very, very low budgets. And I thought, okay, if we’re really going to embrace what I love – horror movies – let’s embrace that tradition as well. Let’s embrace the tradition of shoot it as fast as you can, shoot it as cheaply as you can.”

In October 2006, it was announced that Dimension Films would bankroll The Mist, with a spring 2007 start date. The budget was roughly $17 million. Casting the lead, Darabont’s first choice was Thomas Jane. “I had met him a few times and he read for The Green Mile I always remembered his work. I’ve seen roles that he’s done, smallish roles in other movies. He’s one of those guys that I just knew had way more depth that he’s generally been elicited to show in other roles that he’s done. So I called him and I said, ‘I got this script and I’d love for you to play the lead. Let’s read it and let’s discuss it.’ And our very first conversation once he’d read it was, ‘Tom I think you have more depth than something like Deep Blue Sea allowed you to show. What I don’t want is a square-jawed action hero here. What I want is a really flawed, well intentioned guy who loves his son and it’s a movie about a guy trying to protect his little boy. As far as you’re concerned that’s what the whole movie is about. Are you ready to take that leap?’ And indeed it was something he had been hungry to do.”

The Mist, 2007, Toby Jones

The rest of the cast quickly fell into place. Darabont recalled, “Jeff DeMunn and Bill Sadler, both of them were those roles, and Laurie Holden, she was also always in my head for the role of Amanda. Others you have to think about a little bit, and there’s where you really have to depend on a great casting director, is, okay, who’s going to play Mrs. Carmody? Who’s going to play Billy? Where do we find a nine-year-old boy who’s got that kind of ability? Deb Aquilla and her associates, they found Nathan Gamble and she brought him to my attention and we hired him immediately. It was Deb’s inspiration to cast Toby Jones as Ollie, which I couldn’t be more delighted with. Toby’s a brilliant guy and gave us a fantastic performance, but he’s not the obvious actor. I’m also the very grateful beneficiary of a lot of good will, so I get to work with people like Andre Braugher and Marcia Gay Harden who wouldn’t necessarily be lookin’ for a horror movie to do, but suddenly, bam, they’re there.”

Darabont added, “We prepped the movie in six weeks, folks. I’ve never prepped a movie in less than five months, but this was part of the spirit of this movie: Get in, do it, don’t over think it, don’t second guess, do it fast, do it loose, and that’s pretty much the way it went.” Darabont signed up for a crash course in guerilla style filmmaking by directing an episode of the FX cop drama The Shield in late 2006. The experience proved so invigorating, Darabont tapped the show’s cinematographer – Rohn Schmidt – and camera operators Bill Gierhart and Richard Cantu to shoot The Mist. Filming commenced February 2007, mostly on a soundstage at StageWorks of Louisiana in downtown Shreveport. Nearby Cross Lake doubled for lakeside Maine, while the exteriors of the Food House were shot in the Louisiana town of Vivian.

The Mist, 2007, Toby Jones, Laurie Holden, Thomas Jane

Opening November 2007 in the U.S., even critics who admired The Mist seemed to object to it, in part. Anthony Lane, the New Yorker:The Mist is itself a supermarket of B-movie essentials, handsomely stocked with bad science, stupid behavior, chewable lines of dialogue, religious fruitcakes, and a fine display of monsters.” Marjorie Baumgarten, the Austin Chronicle:The Mist has extended passages that pause to preach, to demonstrate the dark impulses of irrationality, magical thinking, and mob mentality. Sadly, these interludes only take away from the magnificent moments in which the stunningly crafted beasties in the mist … come out to prey.” Justin Chang, Variety: “Much nastier and less genteel than his best-known Stephen King adaptations (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), Frank Darabont’s screw-loose doomsday thriller works better as a gross-out B-movie than as a psychological portrait of mankind under siege, marred by one-note characterizations and a tone that veers wildly between snarky and hysterical.”

In April 2008, Eugene Novikov – who ranked The Mist among the best films of 2007 – opened the floor on website Cinematical to a discussion of what viewers thought about that ending. John: “In regards to the ending: it’s one of the better twist endings I’ve seen in a while. Nowadays, I feel like twists or reveals have become cheapened by how frequent they have become in movies, and most of them just happen to trick the audience. But with The Mist, the twist ending was surprising AND thought-provoking.” Gary Triestman: “Balderdash and hogwash! I saw The Mist yesterday, and am utterly pissed at the ending. Pissed not such because it was bleak and useless, it was, but because it absolutely did NOT fit into the personalities, drives or character motivations of the people who allegedly assented to being sacrificed.” Okie: “I thought the ending was perfect. Its what made me recommend this movie to so many people. Most don’t like the ending because they don’t think they could ever do that to their child. But the alternative was definitely worse.”

The Mist would gross $25.5 million in the U.S. and $31.5 million overseas, then quickly dissipate from theaters. Even a two-disc DVD – which supplemented the theatrical version of the film with a black & white version closer to Frank Darabont’s retro vision of the material – did little to spark a reevaluation of the film. Less than enthralled with many of the flicks based on his work, Stephen King mused, “This movie has echoes of political and religious situations that we find ourselves in now, it raises a lot of interesting topics that have been debated in the press and current events over the last couple of years and all of those things obviously played a part when Frank got around to writing the screenplay and directing the movie, casting the movie – which is part of direction – but they’re not for me to say, other than to say he and I share some political convictions. As to what they are, the viewer who comes to the movie with an open mind and a clear eye will see that for themselves.”

The Mist, 2007, Laurie Holden, Alexa Davalos, Thomas Jane

Should I Care?

The Mist tries to be a provocative movie, one I was supposed to love or hate with a passion and occupy no middle ground on. While that’s true of he ending, as time passes, the film has actually inched into a twilight zone for me; not the failure I originally thought it was, but ultimately, not up to snuff with the nihilistic freakshows that inspired it, like Night of the Living Dead or John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. But for all its flaws – and there are a gaggle here – it’s not easy to put The Mist out of your mind. For one thing, instead of the usual bag of bogeymen, Stephen King’s source material unleashes an ecosystem of hideous animals – equipped with tentacles, stingers, beaks, acid webs or giant pincers – that disturb on some primal level. Along with The Shining, this may be most terrifying story King has ever concocted.

Frank Darabont was inspired to adapt this material with the same thrift store economy Alfred Hitchcock brought to Psycho, but the results here are more amateurish than masterful. The abbreviated schedule not only handicaps the extensive makeup and digital effects, but turns what might have been an atmospheric and profoundly disturbing story about mass hysteria into a blunt, condescending and at times silly moral sermon. The Mist is short on B-movie nastiness and long on message. Ugh. Superbly cast in spite of the script’s high handedness – with local actors Robert Treveiler. Melissa Suzanne McBride and Kelly Collins Lintz doing outstanding work – the story might have been better realized with a more elegant, less in-your-face approach. The controversial ending is a failure simply because Darabont rushes headlong into a Big Message at the expense of credibility. The results are similar to trying on a bomb vest and plunging the detonator to see what happens.

© Joe Valdez

The Mist, 2007

Where Are You Getting This *&#!?
“An Exclusive Interview with Mr. Frank Darabont!”
By Edward Douglas. Shock Till You Drop, 16 November 2007

“Stephen King and Frank Darabont Step Out of The Mist
By Brad Balfour. Pop Entertaiment.com, 23 November 2007

“When Darkness Came: The Making of The MistThe Mist (Two-Disc Collector’s Edition). Genius Products (2008)

Tags: Alternate universe · Ambiguous ending · Based on short story · Beasts and monsters · End of the world · Father/son relationship · Military · Paranoia · Small town

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 J.D. // May 11, 2009 at 8:43 am

    “The Mist is short on B-movie nastiness and long on message. ”

    I would disagree. There is a lot of fantastic movie monster love in this film with the mist-enshrouded creature that drags a few hapless characters to their doom, esp. the first one – the store clerk who gets zapped at the loading dock, which was particularly nasty.

    What I like about this film is that the enemy is as much us as it is the creatures. It is the creatures that bring out the nastiness in the human survivors. Yeah, the film treats it a little broadly at times (the religious zealot character plays by Marcia Gay Harden) but I’m willing to give it a pass because the rest of the film is so good, IMO.

    The film has some truly haunting images, most significantly in my mind, that great shot of that huge-ass monster that towers over our heroes near the end of the film as it strides on by. I will never forget that shot. Incredible stuff.

    And the intentionally controversial ending of the film works for me. It is jarring and comes as a real sucker punch based on what we’ve seen before. And, according to Darabont, it is quite close in spirit, to King’s original novella. At least, Darabont had the balls to go for it and try to make a balls-out horror film instead of so many of the tired, formulaic horror films that are out there.

  • 2 P.S. Gifford // May 11, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    As unsavory as the ending might have felt- it made a solid point- and could not have ended any other way. The point of the movie, as I see it, is that the biggest, scariest, most hateful monsters of all is mankind.

    Paul

  • 3 Joe Valdez // May 11, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    J.D.: Thanks for commenting. We agree except when it comes to giving the movie a pass over the heavy handed theme, and the ending. I respect the attempt by Darabont to do something different here, but don’t think it was thought out clearly enough. It just felt rushed to me, almost spewed out. I think I’m in the minority though, a lot of horror fans seemed to appreciate the ending.

    Paul: I kind of like Stephen King’s ending, which was that the mist may or may not encompass the world and there may or may not be hope for the survivors who escape the loony supermarket. It reminds me of The Birds, but I think it works just fine, something I can’t say for every King ending. Thanks for visiting and sharing your comments!

  • 4 Dave // Jul 7, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    I loved the ending in both; but the ending for the movie just made sense for general audiences, it created a sort of existential horror, “OMG I just killed my boy, and was rescued yada-yada”.

    I really liked it.

    Also, why Marcia Gay Harden wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar for this is BEYOND me, I had no clue she was an actor, I thought they just picked up some random fundie in South Carolina and said “Go, act like you do all the time.” Audiences went crazy cheering when she got shot (saw it twice in the theaters). Every time I’ve seen the movie, I’ve wanted to stab the biatch in the face over and over and over again, every time she’s on screen. She did a FANTASTIC job with that role.

  • 5 Carl // Jul 7, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    The monsters outside were nasty and terrifying enough. You expect that. But the most terrifying monster moment in the film comes when the people INSIDE succumb to madness and fear, and become the horror and turn on each other. All the priors have been a set up for THAT turn. And what’s more ghastly when you think about: the fanciful monsters you never really see clearly and know aren’t real or the everyday ones you smile at in the supermarket who look like you and turn on you in your last sanctuary with death in their eyes ?

  • 6 Uranium Willy // Dec 20, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    I am preparing a post on this film over at Necrotic Cinema (http://necrotic-cinema.blogspot.com) and saw your review and appreciate the background info on it, as is always the case on your site and films.

    As I focus my two site on only horror films I would have to say that I really enjoyed the film. A major issue with horror films is the endings. While not a perfect ending and a little too nihilistic for my taste it was well done enough for me though maybe a bit hurried. I have to admit I had the ending spoiled for me by someone who had already seen the film. Had the group been sitting in the car and heard the sounds of approaching monster, that were actually tanks and such, and then in a panicked last resort did what happened, only to have Jane’s character then realize the mistake, it may have worked for me a bit.

    Again though, ending usually are the Achilles Heel of most horror films and bleak endings seem to be the trend these days. But this ending was not a total loss and the film worked well enough. I think there was too much banter in the aisle’s and not enough freaky creatures but the acting and dialog seemed to work most of the time.

    Thanks for a good article on this film.

    Bill Courtney

  • 7 Kimbakat // Feb 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Some points I agree on..but now I after I’ve seen it a few times..it’s really growing on my like an old friend. I do find the “mass and mob” mentality to be accurate as to what would happen when you have the stupid meet the wise after all….”He’s just a kid. He’s supposed to be stupid….what’s your excuse?” I do like a lot of the lines. I get hung on the end seeing that super large passive creature at the end..and the actors do an excellent job of “showing” you what they ARE thinking..no dialoge necessary..I was thinking the same thing…”With things like this around…we are totally screwed.” I find the ending more appropriate the more I see it….Although I would’ve waited till starvation or other uneasiness passed to start suicide action…but the acting of their expressions to each other…in the car at the end..need no words. In that..no dialogue is sometimes better. You need to think “as an observer” to what the characters thinking..it’s what engages your mind on a deeper level.

    I love it more and more..even when I didn’t like the ending the first time..but yet..now…and choose it over other so many other things that are on cable. I find that the more “realistic” movies are..the more I like them.

    Hated The Hulk..and now hating a lot more “hollywood” predictability or trite storylines.

    Loved “The Watchmen”… – not predicatable..and had balls.

Leave a Comment