Every once in a while (alas, "a while" has come more often than usual this year), a film is released that just makes you want to throw your hands up in befuddlement. Such is the case with "The Fog," a god-awful remake of John Carpenter's atmospheric 1980 chiller in which the sleepy coastal town of Antonio Bay is besieged by a thick ominous fog carrying the angry spirits of a 19th century leper colony. Carpenter, once a master of suspense back in his '70s and '80s heyday, knew how to create an undeniable mood, a sumptuous sense of place, and a straightforward story that avoided overcomplicating matters or treating its audience like imbeciles. "The Fog" is no "Halloween
," but having just watched it less than twenty-four hours ago, the film still holds up extremely well and has a deserved place in the cinematic echelon of the horror genre.
The umpteenth remake of the past few years, the 2005 version of "The Fog" scrapes at the bottom of the barrel, beating the crummy "The Amityville Horror
" for its place as the worst horror update of the year. Nearly every possible thing that could have been done to screw up this picture director Rupert Wainwright (1999's "Stigmata
") somehow finds a way to do. Indeed, "The Fog" goes wrong on so many levels that one has to wonder if the outcome was unintentional or an example of direct sabotage. Less scary than the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World, and, coincidentally, reminiscent of that attraction during its mind-numbingly stupid ending, the film doesn't have a clue how to create an even rudimentary level of suspense or tell a story without condescending to viewers in the most offensive ways. Additionally, the characters are poorly defined, the performances are cut-rate, the writing approaches laughable status, the CGI-created fog is so unconvincing that there is never any feeling of threat (why be scared of what so obviously looks like it was added into the frames a week before the release date?), and the whole thing is so overstuffed with needless plot-centric exposition that the pacing never recovers from its first-hour crawl.
With the anniversary of Oregon island community Antonio Bay fast approaching, so does a deadly fog, drifting against the wind and toward land as it takes the life of whoever it envelops. The ghostly apparitions within, who were robbed and murdered at the hands of the town's founding fathers, want revenge, plain and simple. Their targets: innocent present-day descendants of their killers, including studly fishing captain Nick Castle (Tom Welling); his girlfriend, on-hiatus college student Elizabeth Williams (Maggie Grace), just back in town as hell starts breaking loose; and local smooth-talking radio deejay Stevie Wayne (Selma Blair), who happens to be Nick's ex. Must be a really
small town. Elizabeth, plagued by nightmares, is the first to suspect something is awry, and goes about trying to solve the mystery a 'la
Nancy Drew and put a stop to their deadly plans.
Relocating the town from California's rocky seaside (in the 1980 original) to an Oregon island is pointless since little is done with the location, but it is the least trying of quandaries concerning "The Fog." When a group of young partiers, including token wisecracking black guy Spooner (DeRay Davis) and two scantily clad bimbos, are stalked on a boat near the beginning, their identities taking the place of the first picture's middle-aged sailors, it became clear that director Rupert Wainwright had no concern for any audience except teenyboppers and pre-teens, many of whom will have no idea walking into the theater that they are about to watch a remake. That in and of itself is far more frightening than any of the cheap, failed jump scares and loud music stings that "The Fog" relies solely upon.
When "The Fog" sticks closely to the source material, it embarrassingly pales in comparison. This would include the usually reliable Selma Blair (2004's "A Dirty Shame
"), taking over for the great Adrienne Barbeau as lighthouse radio deejay Stevie Wayne and wavering between what amounts to a mimic of Barbeau and a spoof of cheesy radio personalities. Whereas Stevie Wayne was separated from the rest of the cast and served as the voice of the audience in the original, here she interacts more with the outside world and, curiously enough, seems to have less to do. Despite advances in technology, this latter version's handling of the fog is inferior, replacing practical effects for computer-generated fog that more often looks murky and tacked on than believable. The film's only energetic scene is one in which Stevie's young son, Andy (Cole Heppell), is chased by a fog that is quickly closing in on him. The rest, vacant of innovation and terror and spontaneity, is dead on arrival.
The problems don't stop there. When the villains are finally glimpsed in all their glory, they look like film projections, all see-through and made up to look like cast members from the aforementioned Haunted Mansion theme park ride. Their appearance is dopey enough, but they are made even worse because, by the time they reveal themselves, their background has been painstakingly covered to such an annoying, time-wasting, narrative-halting degree that there ceases to be any mystery at all about who they are. Doesn't screenwriter Cooper Layne (2003's "The Core
") realize that what the audience doesn't know about something threatening is more frightening than handing out all the facts on a silver platter? Apparently not, because by the time the camera goes around during the climax and focuses in on each protagonist as their forefathers' names is listed (never mind that this information was given out in the very first ten minutes), there has long since been no room for interpretation. And then comes the supposed twist of an ending, which is so nonsensical, asinine, and misguided it should never
be seen to be believed. Not since the finale of 1999's "The Haunting
" remake has a horror movie's last scenes been so awe-inspiringly dreadful and saccharine.
If not for some passable cinematography and two interesting individual shots, "The Fog" would be completely useless. For good measure, also stir in some gag-worthy dialogue ("The window is broken. The gauges are smashed," Nick states the obvious to Elizabeth, who stands right next to him as they investigate a seemingly deserted boat where foul play has taken place); a shower sex scene that "Cinemax After Dark" movies would look like if they didn't even have nudity; a romance between Tom Welling (2003's "Cheaper by the Dozen
," TV's "Smallville") and Maggie Grace (TV's "Lost") so emotionally frigid that icicles can almost be glimpsed instantaneously growing on their noses every time they touch each other; occurrences that are forgotten about the second after they happen (Elizabeth witnesses watery footprints on the ceiling and other signs of the supernatural late at night and is unfazed the next morning); people doing things more stupid than even a forgiving lover of the genre like myself can accept; and a script and pace so lethargic the end credits roll before the movie has had a chance to take off. What is left, then, is a pile of manure made by a disrespectful hack of a director that craps on the memory of the solid 1980 original. "The Fog" is a textbook example of how not
to make a horror film.