I’ve thinking about endings. Story endings.
See, a horror loving friend had a movie night the other night and, as one does, decided to stick on an “old” and “classic” movie. Did she pick something like, oh, James Whale’s Frankenstein? What about Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Perhaps The Shining or The Exorcist, those 70s classics? But no. She didn’t even go Hammer Horror from that period, which I would’ve loved. Look, I’m not picky. I’d consider the original Freddy Krueger Nightmare on Elm St a classic.
But my friend is significantly younger than me, so what she picked was… The Mist. From 2007. Hmmm.
Anyway, after having some severe words with her about what constitutes a ‘classic’, or even ‘old’, and after said friend mocked me in return for being middle-aged and out of touch – all undoubtedly true – we all sat down with several bottles of wine (necessary for this film) to watch it. Then we all got into semi-drunken arguments about the ending. As a bunch of horror readers, writers and pop culture consumers are wont to do.
Oh, and before I forget: spoilers ahead. I don’t know if it’s possible to spoil a move that’s a dozen years old, especially in a blog post titled “Endings”, but I did see someone put a spoiler warning on an online forum discussion of Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo once, and that book’s well over 170 years old, so what do I know about modern spoiler culture?
Um… where was I headed, before I paused to roll my eyes at spoiler warnings?
That’s right. The Mist, circa 2007. If you don’t know the ending by now, here’s my rendition of it: after surviving the endless horrors that usually occur in a Stephen King tale, the protagonist and his plucky band of survivors (read: a nice older couple, a love interest, and his 8yo son, the protection of whom has hitherto been his entire character motivation), give up and he shoots them all dead. This is instead of letting the monsters get to them, or something. Even though they’ve risked far more multiple times than stepping outside of the car into the mist and seeing if they maybe can walk it. Anyway, thirty seconds after he literally kills his own child, the army rolls in and he finds they were all saved after all. Oh, the horror.
People hated this ending.
I hated this ending.
But my movie-night-hosting-friend *loved* this ending, and knows just how controversial that stance is, hence her desire to ply everyone with wine and stick this particular film on. She loves the ending because it’s grim and brutal and horror. She also loves a good argument. Her argument to those of us who hated the ending was we’re just not tough enough to cope with a downer ending and wanted some kind of happy fairytale finale.
Let me tell you, in horror writing circles, thems fighting words.
So I’m here to tell you why I hated the ending and it’s nothing to do with not being able to deal with grim, brutal, horror movie endings. It’s because that particular ending is entirely unearned in a storytelling sense. It makes no narrative sense. It is plonked on purely for shock value.
In a story, your ending has to be earned. That version of The Mist is a damn fine movie which I absolutely loved… right up until the end, which destroyed it. Because the ending was unearned and unrelated to the actual story. If the protagonist had been struggling throughout the film with a dark part of himself that didn’t want to protect or care for his kid, while still loving him, then having to shoot the child dead right when he’d finally embraced a protector’s role would have been a truly tragic, gut-wrenching end.
That’s not what happened. There was no fatal flaw in the protagonist that he finally gave in to which provided our tragedy. It’s one thing for the external end goal to be survival, but they fail and all die. But story endings are wrapped up in the protagonist’s internal journey, their character arc, and this ending made zero sense to any character’s arc in the film.
Which is a shame, because otherwise it’s a note-perfect flick which shows that no matter what external monster horrors threaten on the outside, the worst horror will always come from inside human beings.
Maybe that’s why I hated the ending so much. It destroys a film I otherwise loved. Anyway, I haven’t seen the more recent Netflix remake, nor have I read the original King novella it’s based on. I’m not likely to watch/read either after the scarring left by version 2007.
So here’s the lesson of the tale, folks… make your ending count for the characters, not merely for the external plotline. That’s where it’ll hit your readers with a real emotional punch.
And for the love of the old gods, do not stick on this flick when having a semi-drunken movie night with a bunch of horror movie fans. Please.