The Fog is the latest movie from the Hollywood chop-shop mentality of taking half-witted horror movie plots, cleaning them up to PG-13 standards, and then giving the latest and greatest teenage market television actors a shot at the big screen by allowing them to “act” in the travesty. As the box office has recently shown though, pretty, popular faces and cheap scares aren't necessarily a good formula for success.
In the case of The Fog the pretty, popular faces are “Lost”’s Maggie Grace and “Smallville”s Tom Welling, and the half-witted plot is halfheartedly based on John Carpenter’s 1980 follow up to Halloween, a little ghost story also called The Fog. In this remake, Grace and Welling play citizens of Antonio Bay, a sleepy little city on an island off the coast of Oregon who end up under siege by the supernatural for crimes of the island’s past. Also along for the ride are several lesser known actors and Selma Blair, the only real “theatrical” actor present in the cast.
As a normal PG-13 horror movie, The Fog contains the usual quality visuals, complete with skulls and other horror images emerging from nowhere to surprise both the cast and the audience. The plot is extremely disjointed as it attempts to spin a different story then the 1980 original picture. I’ll go a little more in depth of how the movie stacks up against the original in a minute, but first let’s look at this movie on its own merits.
It’s important to note that Maggie Grace’s part in this film makes her work on “Lost” look Emmy-worthy by comparison. Grace only seems capable of emoting one attitude: snobby. She can be snobby-scared, or snobby-haughty, or even snobby-injured, but she can’t seem to leave that snobbyness behind, no matter what is chasing her. DeRay Davis who plays Spooner, the Gilligan to Nick’s Skipper, is even worse though. Rarely has one man been capable of ruining entire scenes (in already bad movies) just by opening his mouth. Five minutes of Davis’s acting makes you thankful the killers tend to go after the brothers first. Compared to Davis and Grace, Tom Welling can pretty much get by just by opening his mouth and saying whatever the script tells him to, which is pretty much all he does. There’s not much emotion coming from anyone involved, killing the only part of the film that seems worth anything - the mood set by the visuals. The imagery may be there and the music may help it, but if the acting doesn’t make us believe something scary is happening, everything else is lost. The acting for The Fog not only loses the audience, it actually made me a bit interested in whatever I was hearing from the next theater over.
The visuals are impressive though, that much can be said. The spooky fog moves in a threatening manner the original film never accomplished, although it doesn’t seem to move consistently. It’s the type of fog that moves in around a house, but then when the shots move to close ups, there is some level of visibility through the window until the fog moves in again in the closer shot, pressing up against all the exits. Visual mistakes like this are frequent in the film, and this is coming from a critic who never looks for that sort of thing. Windows that were broken become unbroken in long shots several times, cars fill with water and sink, only to reveal at the bottom of the sea that the car is just now filling with water. I’m pretty certain I even saw a marker stuck in for special effects to be inserted in one scene. Again, not one of these things was something I was looking for, so the fact that they stuck out at me so badly is a testament to just how sloppy this movie was put together.
Looking at the movie as a remake makes things even worse. The original was not exactly a piece of art. It had some major problems leaving plenty of room for improvement. Unfortunately screenwriter Cooper Layne (The Core) and director Rupert Wainwright (Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em: The Movie) not only didn’t fix any of those areas, but came up with plenty of new holes to push into the plot and characters.
Saying this movie is “based on” that film is kind of like naming my cats Castor and Pollux - the names are there, but until one of them is lamenting over the other one’s death, they are just names. So it is with the movie. The lead characters carry the same names, but relationships are entirely different, with no real justification or reason for the change in any of them. One of the primary players of the original, Father Malone, is barely present in this film. Blair’s Stevie Wayne is no longer just a voice on the radio for most of the characters. She’s had a bit of a love affair with Welling’s Nick Castle, adding a connection between the two that was never there before. Grace’s Elizabeth is no longer a wayward hitchhiker picked up by a stranger. She’s now a former lover of Nick who left town and happens to be picked up by him on her way back. She’s also the daughter of Antonio Bay councilwoman Kathy Williams. The irony in that last relationship is that the original roles were played by real life mother/daughter combination Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh, only the characters were not related. Why that change occurred, or any of them for that matter, is never explained and plays essentially no part of the film. I honestly think the filmmakers just got to a point where they were changing things just to be different.
The saddest change from the original is that John Carpenter’s famous strong female characters are missing, even though their names are present. Elizabeth can barely take two steps without needing Nick’s help, although what’s more sad is the destruction of Stevie Wayne. In the original Stevie provided a sultry voice of strength, helping guide the other characters to survival. This Stevie abandons her post at the first sign of danger and, like Elizabeth, pretty much relies on Nick for help. It’s a good day to be Tom Welling when you have both Grace and Blair relying on you, but it makes things annoying for the moviegoers.
The Fog is sure to spook young lovers who use the flick as a “date movie” and is guaranteed to have enough jumpy moments to have that date sitting closer by the end. Hopefully those who use the movie for that purpose will put more time and effort into sucking face then focusing on the movie itself. As a PG-13 horror flick it’s a sloppy mess. As a remake it makes you wonder why they bothered with a picture that neither honors nor pays tribute to the original. Let’s leave this movie to suffer the fate of other pictures it resembles like Darkness Falls and Valentine and hope that, like a real fog, it disappears from theaters when the sun comes out tomorrow.