Warning: Spoilers for
The Mist obviously follow.

Though it opened to an enormous collective yawn, I thought that Stephen King's The Mist -- just released on DVD -- was one of the very best films of last year. Perhaps more accurately, I thought it was a movie that Frank Darabont and Stephen King tailor-made for me. There were moments in it that completely embodied everything I love about the horror genre: when a disheveled, bloodied Jeffrey DeMunn barreled into the supermarket, yelling that "there's something in the mist," the terror in his eyes and voice chilled me to the bone. That intersection between the mundane and the fantastical, the film straddling the line between the world we know and some place far beyond our imagination, is what makes that moment, and many others in The Mist, so scary. It approaches its supernatural conceit with an unforgettable combination of horror and wide-eyed wonder.

No doubt the most controversial and confounding aspect of The Mist is that shocking pitch-black ending that probably cost some foolhardy studio executive his job. So I thought that those of us who have seen the movie could talk about it a bit. Coming at the end of a grueling, draining two hours, it felt like a punch in the face -- and yet, to me at least, it also felt right. After the jump, I'd like to use you folks as a sounding board for my preferred interpretation of the film's conclusion, and also solicit yours. Fair warning: if you click through, you'll be spoiled. And it's something that's worth experiencing for yourself.

The irony is how deeply humanistic the ending is despite its incredible bleakness. By the end of the film, David (Thomas Jane), Amanda (Laurie Holden), Dan (DeMunn) and Irene (Frances Sternhagen) have utterly lost any faith in humanity they may have had, arriving at the realization that most everyone around them is craven, cruel and incapable of reason. When pushed, they all regressed to feral superstition. Having driven out into the mist and glimpsed truly unspeakable horrors all around them (the scene where they see the faint outlines of an otherworldly creature larger than a house is another of those amazing awe-filled moments I will never forget), the four quite reasonably conclude that they're screwed. They've seen what becomes of their fellow man when confronted with such terrors. There's no rescue coming, because there's no way in hell that their puny, cowardly race can survive this intact. So letting David put them (plus his son Billy) out of their misery seems better than being ripped to pieces by whatever is walking around outside of their Jeep.

The twist, of course, is that humanity turns out to have the existential crisis very much under control. Our heroes were wrong, and those four gunshots were severely premature. Some people have interpreted this as an indictment of their nihilism: they were so eager to mock and deplore people of faith that they swung too far in the other direction, and to their deaths. But I prefer a slightly different take: I think the message is that we're not as bad as the worst among us. The crucial variable isn't faith, it's faith in ourselves. David, Irene, Dan and Amanda were simply too quick to extrapolate from the Lord of the Flies scenario that developed inside their supermarket. I found this revelation remarkably moving.

What do you think? Does my reading seem right? Did the ending work for you? And has anyone seen the apparently awesome black-and-white director's cut on the DVD?