Somebody please beam me out of here.
—DJ Stevie (Selma Blair), The Fog
“We gotta go!” Poor Nick (Tom Welling) says this a few too many times in The Fog, and every time he does, you’re likely to be thinking the same thing. Rupert Wainwright’s dull remake of John Carpenter’s bizarre, though judiciously spare 1980 version maintains a steady, slow pace, never building to a climax that matters. Though the flesh and blood characters’ primary opponents are vengeful 19th-century ghosts, they’re more egregiously inconvenienced by the clunky script, which manages to explain and leave out too much at the same time.
Nick lives on Antonio Island, off the Oregon coast, where self-important local mucky-mucks—including the on-edge mayor (Kenneth Welsh), the hoity-toity Mrs. Williams (Sara Botsford), and the miserable, perpetually drunk Father Malone (Adrian Hough)—are inaugurating a memorial to the town founders. An early, misty flashback reveals that these founders were in fact dastardly sorts, the precise and grisly nature of their crime to be revealed anon (though not anon enough—the saga grinds on for an hour and 40 minutes). This and other flashbacks—most often appearing as “visions” attributed to Elizabeth (Maggie Grace), leggy and blond and apt to walk through scary hallways in her underwear—lay out the reasons for the ghosts’ reappearance in linear fashion, but they don’t do much for the forward motion of the scary plot.
The flashbacky clutter also runs counter to the low-budget leanness of Carpenter’s original, which was occasionally comical, but also creepy. The elucidation is only vaguely topical: the founders sign a contract with a group of lepers looking for an island of their own, then renege big time, locking the lepers in their ship and burning it at sea. It’s one of those “Indian burial grounds” set-ups that cheesy horror movies so love to exploit: the lepers’ ghosts are unleashed by a wayward anchor, and come to kill the founders’ descendants. (The ghosts’ skeletal and dusty-looking visages are actually yuckier than the flashbacked leper faces, but the frequent closeups of the latter suggest the filmmakers wanted to show off their makeup effects.)
The anchor belongs to Nick, who runs a tourists’ fishing business, handed down from his dad, an actual fisherman, now dead, and the descendent of founder. Also in this unlucky group, Nick’s erstwhile girl Elizabeth rolls back into town after an apparently hasty departure; “You left without a note,” complains Nick after he picks her up on a lonely cliff-side road (this parallels Elizabeth as unrelated hitchhiker in the first film). She confesses her nightmares when, following a tastefully soft-lit sex scene, she wakes up in a panic beside Nick, and starts explaining the perfect sweat on her brow.
Elizabeth feels connected to the founders’ crime (though the film’s resolution quite undoes this connection, or twists it inside out, as it becomes unclear whether she’s a descendent of the founders or the founders’ victims, or maybe she’s just a generic sacrificial blond). So she heads off on her own search for narrative, to learn how her burning ship dreams fit together. Her efforts to decipher the mystery include googling, interviewing craggy town elders, and nearly drowning when aggressive seaweed grabs at her.
In a more organized film, Elizabeth’s story would be connected with everyone else’s. But she spends way too much time alone (her painfully limited performance consisting of reactions to noises and effects). Nick’s involvement is even more passive, except when he valiantly drives through the assaultive fog to rescue Andy (Cole Heppell), young son of his sometime lover, DJ Stevie (Selma Blair, whose restrained reaction to the fog seeping into her car only demonstrates that she profoundly outclasses this movie). As usual, the child is the one with a clue; as soon as Andy sees the digital fog rolling in, his eyes go wide and he murmurs, “It wants us.”
Stevie is the film’s designated Clever Girl, repeatedly placed in jeopardy and repeatedly figuring her way out. (Ordinarily, this would be Elizabeth’s job, but she’s not so clever.) While she spins “the platters that matter” (apparently, she’s stuck in her own wayward century) in a lonely lighthouse, she has to deal with the flirtations of Dan the weatherman (Jonathon Young), who advises her of the fog’s whereabouts (“What kind of fog moves against the wind?” she wonders) and sends her a webcam (“If I wanted to be seen,” she groans, ” I wouldn’t have gone into radio”). Really, though, the camera serves one purpose: it makes her the unwilling but rapt witness of Dan the weatherman’s burning when the fog ghosts attack.
Alas, Stevie’s wiliness doesn’t stop the film from culminating in the standard big confrontation between townies and fog ghosts, framed by the somewhat antic commentary by the one outsider, Nick’s first mate and best friend Spooner (DeRay Davis), the only black character in sight. Though Spooner initially works overtime to “fit in” with the white folk, whooping and drinking and training his video camera on bikinied girls during a nighttime cruise with Nick’s dead-meat cousin, he’s eventually quite eager to dissociate himself. When the townies are informed, “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the heads of the children,” Spooner rightly shouts, “Keep my father out of this. I’m from Chicago!”