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Fog, The (2005)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 10/14/05 17:48:35

"OK, Hollywood. We get it. You can remake your movies. Fine. Now cut it out."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Theater seven at the Showcase Cinemas Milford 16 multiplex in Cincinnati, Ohio, has 480 ceiling panels. I might be off by a handful, because the panels close to the screen, and therefore far from my seat, were a bit too dark to see for sure, so I had to estimate. I am telling you this because for most of “The Fog,” there wasn’t really much else to do but count.

“The Fog,” a remake of John Carpenter’s underappreciated 1980 follow-up to his legendary “Halloween,” is not as bad as I may have just let it sound with that opening paragraph, nor is it as bad as its unimpressive ad campaign might suggest. But it is also completely devoid of the imagination, atmosphere, and scream flick know-how that Carpenter’s “Fog” had in spades. The original aimed to be a ghost-story-around-the-campfire experience; the remake merely wants to be just another modern day screamer, nothing more.

The basic story is, for the most part, the same: the island town of Antonio Bay, Oregon, is preparing to celebrate the unveiling of a statue depicting the village’s four “founding fathers.” Meanwhile, artifacts that had spent over a century on the ocean floor are suddenly washing up on the shore. And then there’s the fog, a brutally thick, rolling beast that’s strangely moving against the wind. Needless to say, you do not want to be on a boat that gets stuck in the middle of that thing.

The screenplay, by Cooper Lane (“The Core”), features changes that seem merely cosmetic yet manage to alter the entire effectiveness of the piece. Gone is the opening ghost story (told at fireside by John Houseman), replaced by an establishing piece involving four men at sea (later revealed through further flashbacks to be the town’s founding fathers) being attacked by something in the water. Right from the start, this is a major shift in tone. We lose the quiet, chilling introduction, the meticulous cadences of Houseman’s readings putting in place the gothic nature of the story to follow. Instead, there’s merely your standard horror flick opening, which asks us to scoot to the edge of our seats, but doesn’t actually make us.

More changes. The Elizabeth and Nick characters have been retooled so they are a twentysomething couple, played here by Maggie Grace and Tom Welling. This is done, I’m guessing, to allow the Elizabeth character a chance to connect more with the overall plotline - in the original, she’s a hitchhiker who stumbles into the terror, while here, she’s a descendant of one of the founding fathers, returning home after she’s started having nightmares that turn out to be psychic visions. While it seems like a good idea at first (the connecting-the-main-character-to-the-town one, not the letting-her-be-psychic one - that idea’s a turkey), it also forces the film to pay less and less attention to the other residents of the village, reducing the ensemble feel of the original, focusing almost entirely on the couple, who become the lone heroes of the story. Considering how bland these kids turn out to be (no fault to the actors, who have nothing at all in the script with which to work), this leaves things to get increasingly uninteresting the more time we spend with these yahoos.

The biggest change here is the inclusion of the flashbacks, which feel pasted in as a means of pushing the audience forward, not trusting us to figure things out based on clues alone. All too often, we’re shown a flashback involving these four men and what happened at sea, and because of the forcefulness of this, we’ve connected the dots long before the characters have. Which only leads to more boredom (par for the course, it turns out), as we’re made to wait impatiently for the people on screen to catch up with us.

Not all of “The Fog” is a failure. Several scenes show serious potential - a few of the quick-scare moments click in their low expectations way, and a later scene, in which a young boy tries to outrun the fog that’s zipping up the coastline, is quite impressive in its use of the widescreen image in representing an impending, inescapable doom.

But these moments are all too brief. The rest of the film flops along without much of a clue as to how to create dread; director Rupert Wainwright (“Stigmata,” “Blank Check,” and yes, “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ’Em: The Movie”) seems content with going through the motions, getting the script onto film quickly, hoping the CGI team will add in enough scares. Carpenter brought style and energy to his film. Wainwright brings apathy.

The movie goes for louder and faster, the final act becoming a dopey chase sequence fueled by computer effects overload. The problem is that while the CGI is convincing, it’s not effective. The ghosts here never scare, probably because while they look good (as ghosts, that is), there’s nothing in the screenplay to make them truly menacing. The film never lets the tension build properly; the rhythms are all off in this movie, and just having ghosts show up and be loud isn’t enough.

In fact, the script is sloppy all the way through, and entire movie becomes all too frustrating as a result. Unlike the original movie, we’re never given a good reason here as to why the ghosts are picking this time to return. The characters most central to the story’s mystery are treated like afterthoughts, so much so that the revelations lack the punch they deserve. And the finale? Here, we’re left with an ending that looks like it’s supposed to mean something but actually doesn’t mean anything at all. Oh, and we learn that the fog cannot get you if you hide in the freezer, which is pretty damn funny, although I don’t think it was supposed to be.

Oh, and above it all, “The Fog” is being released with a PG-13 rating. Perhaps this, too, keeps the film from being successful, the studio forcing the filmmakers to pull their punches. (Even then, this movie pushes the boundaries of the PG-13; just a drop of blood more here or there, and this would most surely be an R.) This is not to say that a horror movie must be gory in order to be scary - in fact, most of the time, the opposite is true. But “The Fog” is a movie that, with nothing else going for it, decides that visual scares are the way to go. So having it restrain itself in the one category where it might actually work is the final nail in its coffin.

So yes, if you’re familiar with the original, there’s no reason, other than cheap curiosity, to see this update. And if you’re unfamiliar with the original, there’s no reason for you to pass that one over for this lesser version. Who knows? Maybe if we ignore these pointless remakes enough, pretty soon they’ll all go away.

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