The Fog, directed by Rupert Wainwright, who gave us Stigmata (strike one), is a remake (strike two) of the 1980 cult classic by John Carpenter, and this time around it stars Maggie Grace (ball) and Tom Welling (strike three, and that’s the game) as the hapless victims of a murderous weather pattern on a small island off the Oregon coast.
It’s the centennial celebration on Antonio Island, and Elizabeth (Grace) returns to town after six months in New York — why she went or what she does there, we’re never told — but in her absence boyfriend Nick (Welling) has been killing time with Stevie (Selma Blair), the local hot mom who runs an indie radio station out of the island’s lighthouse. Elizabeth doesn’t know about Nick’s extracurricular goings-on, and she doesn’t have a chance to find out, either; before even the barest semblance of plot can be put forward by screenwriter Cooper Layne (The Core, and thanks for that one, Coop), Wainwright lays it on heavy: clanging sound effects, heavy music, and all the other requisite tricks in the PG-13 thriller bag.
Nick runs a fishing business, and his partner and requisite black sidekick, Spooner (DeRay Davis), takes the boat out one night with Nick’s cousin and two local girls, all of whose names you don’t need to know. Cousin and townies bite it first, when the mysterious fog bank rolls around the ship and kills them, albeit in a toned-down way. This is, after all, a PG-13 affair, and Wainwright aims for the junior-high demographic with the cheap thrills sure to spook the Fast and the Furious crowd, but anyone looking for genuine suspense or scares should rent the original.
OK, let’s make this quick: Elizabeth and Nick start to investigate a couple of strange old artifacts that seem to be tied to the fog, although Elizabeth does most of the investigating while Nick walks around shifting between confusion, panic, and lust for his girlfriend; it’s a shame that Welling seems to be recycling the same three emotions he uses on “Smallville,” and that Grace isn’t given more to do than run around an island trying to avoid a dangerous killer cloud…you know, I could’ve sworn I’ve seen her do something like that recently. Like on TV. Like Wednesdays at 9.
In the course of her investigations, Elizabeth comes across Father Malone, the town priest and town drunk, sitting in the graveyard and staring at his family mausoleum. Someone, presumably the fog monsters, has spray-painted “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin” on the wall, and Malone tells Elizabeth that it’s from the Bible and that it means “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” That’s only part of the phrase, though; it also says “Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians,” but that’s significantly less spooky and pretty confusing, so Wainwright just sticks with Crazy Drunk Priest’s explanation. Malone then mutters, “The sins of the father shall be visited on the head of the son,” which is also a little sketchy; then again, it’s pretty obvious that Malone attended seminary at Our Lady of the Hackneyed Movie Subplots, so I’ll let it slide.
Anyway, so the fog rolls in, and it basically hits the fan. While the impossibly beautiful couple runs around, Stevie tries to get back through the fog from the lighthouse to her home, where her defenseless son waits. Yada yada yada, eventually everyone regroups at town hall. The ghosts in the fog, who have been growing steadily clearer in each scene, now make themselves known. It turns out that the spirits were the victims of a horrible crime a century earlier by the founders of Antonio Island, and I won’t reveal it here; if, for some sad reason, you actually go see The Fog, you’ll need something to surprise you. So the spirits, apparently deciding that revenge on the men that killed them wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as waiting a hundred years to kill their hapless descendants, start racking up the body count. Apparently they were gypsies, or something, or maybe the unjust nature of their collective deaths granted them some kind of postmortem retributive powers, or maybe it’s just one of those things you have to accept in movies like this.
My question is: why the remake? The original isn’t stellar, but it’s enjoyable in its own right. Sure, there’s some guaranteed box office to be had from kids that are too young to get into an R-rated film and too dumb to avoid this one. But does Wainwright honestly hope to top Carpenter? This new film groans under the weight of forced suspense, lifeless action, and uninvolving characters. I found myself hoping Stevie would die early on, just because it would be unexpected. The music and low-end thuds that pepper the soundtrack prevent the film from establishing any kind of legitimate tone, let alone instill in the audience the kind of fear Carpenter could with his films, like Halloween. It’s been 25 years since the original, and we’ve traded in atmospheric terror for a few quick edits and hokey bumps in the night. Too bad. The Fog would have made a good movie.
Daniel Carlson is the L.A. critic for Pajiba and a copy editor for a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his weblog, Slowly Going Bald.
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()