Frank Darabont should be slapped. He's the writer/director of The Mist, the film adaptation of Steven King's classic novella. I just got back from seeing it with my friend Mike a few minutes ago. We'll come back to Darabont in a moment.
First 99% of the movie: A
Wow! A remarkably faithful adaptation of the novella. The story concerns a group of ordinary people who become trapped in a supermarket by a mysterious, obscuring mist. The mist, of course, isn't the real threat: the otherworldly things within it are. The creatures are depicted masterfully with CGI: some of them appear with horrible realism, while others remain eerily obscured within the mist. The internal personalities and conflicts of the people within the supermarket are handled deftly: I found myself liking a lot of the characters and caring about them immensely. Many other reviewers found Marcia Gay Harden's depiction of fundamentalist nutjob Mrs. Carmody cartoonish and over-the-top; maybe I've just interacted with too many fundamentalists, but her portrayal struck me just right. So, to summarize: the first 99% of the film is an excellent, classic horror movie.
Last 1% of the movie: F
This is why Darabont should be slapped. The original King novella has a somewhat open-ended conclusion. Apparently this wasn't good enough for Darabont, and he felt the need to tack on an ironic twist to close the film and apparently give it some closure. The change is jarring: the ending is far too cute and fits not at all with the rest of the movie. It also seems incredibly clumsy: the audience was laughing at the thickly-applied melodrama. I felt as if Alfred Hitchcock had directed the first 99% of the film and been replaced at the last minute with the guy who directed those Ernest movies.
I have a feeling there's more here than meets the eye, at least as far as studio politics are concerned. Was Darabont, the writer/director of one of the most beloved films of all time, pressured into providing the movie an ending with 'zing'? I suppose we'll have to wait for the audio commentary and director's cut to find out...
Update: Nope, reading through some Darabont interviews, he's apparently pleased as punch with the way he ended it. At some point I may write a spoiler post explaining why I think it's really cheap. I find it highly amusing how he quotes Steven King in every interview, and says, in essence, "Well, Steven LOVED it." Of course, it's a strong argument because there's never been a writer who, years later, tinkered with his original vision for the worse.