I just saw Frank Darabont's latest Stephen King adaptation, about small-town Mainers trapped in a supermarket while a monster-riddled mist - accidentally unleashed when a military experiment opens a portal to a Lovecraftian dimension - rolls over the world. The movie is basically a glorified Twilight Zone episode, but in an era when the horror genre is dominated by torture-porn one-upsmanship, there's something refreshing about a monster movie that traffics in Rod Serling-style social commentary, even if it runs toward heavy-handedness at times. (With the Twilight Zone comparison in mind, I'd be very curious to see Darabont's black-and-white version; if nothing else, the film's low-budget special effects might look a lot cooler than they did in color.)

That said, whether you give the film a thumbs-up or thumbs-down probably depends on what you think of the brutal twist ending, which departs significantly from the King novella. Spoilers follow ...

The King story ends with the escapees from the supermarket - the hero, David Drayton, his pre-teen son and three others - driving southward into an uncertain future. The film ends with Drayton's car running out of gas deep in the mist, with no hope of rescue; Drayton has a gun with four bullets in it, and he ends up shooting his fellow passengers, including his son, to spare them being devoured by the monstrosities all around them. Sobbing and screaming, Drayton staggers out into the mist, cryng out for the monsters to come kill him, at which point there's a roaring sound and a huge shape looms up out of the fog - and then resolves into a column of tanks, which is followed by trucks carrying refugees (including a woman who fled the supermarket early on, in search of her children; her kids are with her on the truck) and soldiers in gas masks carrying flamethrowers. In other words, Drayton shot his own son five minutes before they would have been rescued.

I can imagine someone judging this a pointlessly vicious twist, but I would describe it instead as pointedly vicious: As Aintitcoolnews' Moriarty has noted, The Mist and Darabont's career-making, super-uplifting adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption both make the same point, about the necessity of hope in hopeless situations; it's just that Shawshank is out to show us what can happen when you keep hope alive, and The Mist wants to rub our faces in what can happen when you don't. It's brutal, yes, but unlike many shocker endings it isn't just designed to show how clever the filmmakers are, and how easily they can jerk the audience around. Rather, it's intended to hammer home the movie's larger point, about the seductions to which the human mind falls prey - the seductions of scientism and hyper-rationalism, which motivated the military experiments that let the Mistworld into ours in the first place; the seductions of religious fanaticism, which comes to dominate the huddled, frightened crowd in the supermarket; and finally the seductions of despair.

On a less high-minded note, I also liked the ending because I'm an irredeemable dork who gets annoyed at the way monster movies and alien-invasion movies tend to depict the American military as essentially helpless against creatures from another world, with some deus ex machina our only hope of salvation. Obviously, this helplessness is a necessary plot device as much as anything, but I always tend to think that if a huge monster showed up in New York City, or alien tripods starting stalking the East Coast, we'd find a way to take them down. So it was nice to see a monster movie where the U.S. military gets to win one, for a change.