It’s rare and relatively modern to come across the film where the ending can ruin it. The surprise ending as opposed to the natural narrative progression. They rarely work. I’d read The Mist had a controversial ending, which, watching the last minutes of the film, I assumed referred to the incredibly bold thing Darabont does. Instead, he cops out at the last second. Well, not the literal last second, but close to… the last two minutes maybe. It’s one of those films, somewhat common these days, where cutting it a few moments before would make all the difference.
These idiotic endings, it seems, rarely happen in films I don’t care about. The closest comparison for The Mist, in terms of damage done to an otherwise excellent and–if it weren’t so cheap–important film, is Vanilla Sky. Both films endings make them more palatable to mainstream audiences, something The Mist–most of which is a condemnation of modern American–shouldn’t really have cared about. Darabont managed an incredibly different balance at the end between horror, science fiction, and wonderment at horrors. What he managed was very good, then he flushed it all down the toilet to be cheap. It’s funny there’s a reference to John Carpenter’s The Thing at the beginning. I just wish Darabont had watched that film and looked at how the ending there worked.
The acting is all stellar, with Thomas Jane turning in a singular leading man performance. Marcia Gay Harden is good as the religious zealot, a role another actress wouldn’t have been able to imbue with the occasional–and necessary–humanity. Darabont standard William Sadler, good as always. The real surprise is Toby Jones, who brings the film some wry humor and a lot of sensitivity. Both Andre Braugher and Frances Sternhagen, no surprise, excellent. Jeffrey DeMunn’s also quite good. Laurie Holden, who I guess Darabont’s been trying highlight since The Majestic, is also good. She has the least to do, but she does well with it. Sam Witwer, in one of the showier roles, is good too.
Darabont’s director’s cut doesn’t feature any additional scenes, but is in black and white (he couldn’t get the studio to go for black and white for theatrical). The light grey mist, the wash of emptiness across the frame, is perfect. Darabont’s got some great shots here (some where it’s clear he wasn’t composing for black and white and some where it doesn’t make sense he’d be doing it for color).
The majority of the film is very smart, which is another reason the idiotic ending hurts so much. It’s not an all-encompassing blunder, which is why it doesn’t tear the film down completely… but it comes real close.
Jane’s the one who saves what’s left.
Directed by Frank Darabont; screenplay by Darabont, based on the novella by Stephen King; director of photography, Rohn Schmidt; edited by Hunter M. Via; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Gregory Melton; produced by Darabont and Liz Glotzer; released by Dimension Films.
Starring Thomas Jane (David Drayton), Marcia Gay Harden (Mrs. Carmody), Andre Braugher (Norton), Laurie Holden (Amanda), Toby Jones (Ollie), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dan Miller), Frances Sternhagen (Irene), Nathan Gamble (Billy Drayton), William Sadler (Jim), Alexa Davalos (Sally) and Sam Witwer (Jessup).