The Fog (2005)
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief sexuality (unrated version reviewed)
Ah, hatewatching. It's an activity popularized by various snark blogs in the last several years, and it concerns watching movies and TV shows for the exact opposite reason that anybody else enjoys them. The movies that one hatewatches aren't good, nowhere close. They're not even so bad they're good. No, movies made for hatewatching are absolutely, utterly, irredeemably bad. They're saddled by lifeless acting, ridiculous writing, characters who behave like no actual human being would, plot twists pulled out of the writer's ass, and awful attempts at humor, frights, and/or drama depending on what genre they're trying to wear the skin of. They're usually ranked by critics and film geeks as being among the worst films of their respective decades and genres, and quite possibly some of the worst of all time.
What I'm trying to say is, I watched the remake of The Fog last night. And even having seen for myself how bad it was when it first came out, and knowing the "reputation" it's built for itself in the ten years since, I still never dreamed it would be this bad. I just had to see for myself, though, and a used copy (of the unrated version -- more on that later) was only a dollar at FYE. For the life of me, I cannot see how this film scored a wide theatrical release from a major studio. No, scratch that, I can see exactly how that happened -- it is the origin of every awful stereotype about the horror remake trend that swept Hollywood in the '00s, a complete mockery of the original film that was made only to swindle those who recognized the name.
If this film was merely subpar without actively insulting me for watching it, as I hoped it would be, I could spend this whole review discussing how it mangled the original's story, much like I did with my review of the House on Haunted Hill remake. Unfortunately, that would fail for three reasons. First, if you might recall, plot wasn't the main selling point of the original. In that film, the backstory about the town's founders sinking and plundering a boat full of people trying to establish a leper colony was pretty much an excuse to get the scares going, rarely intruding on the main survival story at the center and really only lending motivation to the ghostly villains. Second, with one key exception, this film pretty much lifts that backstory wholesale without any needless changes. Third, and critically, that one exception fails completely independently of anything that has to do with the original, singularly pulling the entire plot into a monstrous sinkhole.
I am talking about the character of Elizabeth. I'll put aside the fact that Maggie Grace makes for an extremely poor replacement for Jamie Lee Curtis, delivering every line in a flat monotone with a severe case of bitch-face. She was pretty clearly cast only because she was hot and was on Lost at the time. Her lackluster performance (to put it charitably) would've sunk the character independently of the writing, but at the same time, I can't blame her for phoning it in, because the writing was also bad enough to wreck the character even if they had a young Jamie Lee Curtis reprising the role. (Oh, and spoilers.) The film ends on an out-of-nowhere plot twist that makes absolutely no sense given what we know about Elizabeth -- it turns out that she's the reincarnation of the wife of the lepers' leader, and when she's reunited with the leader, they all go away. This is why, over the course of the movie, she'd been having spooooooky visions about the ship that was wrecked. Wait, isn't she the daughter of the mayor, who's descended from the town's founders? Why would one of the vengeful spirits be reincarnated in that position? For that matter, if reincarnation exists, why weren't any the other ghosts reincarnated? And weren't the ghosts seeking revenge against the town for killing them and building their wealth off of what they plundered from them? Now their leader just wants to be reunited with his wife? And it's never made clear in the film if Elizabeth is merely reincarnated (which is what Wikipedia's plot description tells me), or if she's literally a ghost herself who had managed to manifest a corporeal body (as I thought watching the ending). If it's the latter, then how did she know Nick (the male lead) growing up? How would she have had a life in the town without having any memory of her past save for those visions? It felt like a twist that the writer threw in simply to be different from the original, without giving a damn about logic or whether it made any sense. If they were trying to create a more fleshed-out plot and perhaps close some of the original's plot holes, they failed miserably.
It was a terrible decision that hammered the final nails in this film's coffin, but even without it, the film still would've been laying in a closed pine box with a few nails sticking out of it. Maggie Grace was hardly the only offender in the cast -- Tom Welling (again, cast only because he was good-looking and on Smallville) was just as bland and wooden as she was, and Selma Blair was likewise merely collecting a paycheck as the DJ Stevie Wayne, proving herself to be no Adrienne Barbeau. And for a DJ who proudly boasts on-air about her "independence" from "corporate radio", she's playing some awfully mainstream mid '00s pop-rock. (I'm sure the opening with Fall Out Boy's "Sugar, We're Going Down" won't become painfully dated in ten years, no siree.) The symbolism is as blunt as a baseball bat -- ooh, the scales from the ship's flag, the name of the ship appearing in static on computer monitors, as if we needed that to know that it's the ghosts doing it when the film is doing everything else it can to shove them in our face! The ghosts, most of the fog, and the scares are all bad CGI, augmented by overbearing music and sound effects that destroy any sense of tension. The characters are some of the dumbest I've ever seen in a horror movie, checking off every point on the list of ways to get brutally murdered in a horror movie, and when they die, the film both shows everything and shows nothing. Everything, in that we get a mess of awful special effects that look like they were pulled out of a PlayStation 2 game very visibly tormenting the characters, and nothing, in that there's virtually no blood even when logic dictates that there ought to be a total bloodbath on screen. (Remember when I said this was the unrated version? Yeah, talk about misleading advertising. They don't even say "fuck" enough to warrant an R rating.) Only one scary scene in this film actually worked -- one. The rest of the time, I was too busy laughing to feel any sense of fright.
Score: 1 out of 5
We're talking Violet & Daisy level bad here, people. It's films like this that give horror remakes a bad name, a soulless cash-in designed purely to rip people off, and going by the fact that it somehow pulled in over $46 million, it sadly worked. Even on its own, it's a terrible movie, but when placed side-by-side with the original, it's an absolute fucking disgrace. John Carpenter, you should be ashamed of yourself for giving the green light to this mockery.