REVIEW: Red Mist (2008)

Seven medical students torment their hospital’s under-confident janitor Kenneth (Andrew Lee Potts), whom they have nicknamed “Freakdog”. When their latest prank results in his having a seizure and slipping into a coma, one of the students (Arielle Kebbel) takes extreme measures to try and save him – with horrifying results.

Red Mist, also known as Freakdog in some markets, is an Northern Irish-produced but American-set horror movie. It has a distinct ‘made-for-television’ feel to it, partly because it’s relatively modest budget and partly because of the simplistic and over-familiar narrative. A group of misbehaving twentysomethings commit a terrible crime, and its victim gains psychic powers to enact his murderous revenge. In effect the viewer is asked to simply watch a brief set-up, and then six gory murders in a row before an unconvincing climax, and a last-minute twist. This is not spoiling a plot: this is recognising a formula.

If nothing else it resembles 1990s television stalwart The X Files, which ran a solid line of these kinds of paranormal tales of psychic phenomena when it wasn’t chasing ghosts or UFOs. Both that series and Red Mist share the same ‘anytown’ aesthetic, with Red Mist‘s Belfast standing in for somewhere on the American east coast. It is all rather vaguely situated.

Ordinary production values can be saved by an inventive script or strong performances. Red Mist doesn’t particularly get either. Where the cast is concerned, Arielle Kebbel (probably best known for The Vampire Diaries) certainly approaches her role with an enthusiasm few other cast members appear to show. Andrew Lee Potts spends much of the film lying asleep on a bed, but even in early scenes seems to struggle with the morality of his character.

That hangs on a bigger problem in the film’s screenplay: precisely with whom are we supposed to sympathise? Kenneth may be a victim of vicious group bullying and grevious bodily harm, but the film introduces him in a hospital morgue taking photographs of naked corpses and cutting his own body. We see him stalking the young woman that later participate in getting him blind drunk and dumping him on a highway. He is absolutely their victim, but he is hardly the least deserving one. His own revenge victims are about as sympathetic and likeable as the average cast of a Friday the 13th sequel, and have about as much time to make an impression before they are killed. A decent slasher flick can make an odd appeal out of a string of random killings, but they need a sense of the absurd to actually entertain an audience. Red Mist is ultimately quite dull.

Horror is a particularly strong genre for using bright ideas and neat twists to regenerate well-familiar tropes and stereotypes. Lower-budgeted productions have a particular potential, since they’re usually free from studio scrutiny and have the ability to take more creative risks. Red Mist takes none. It is certainly a watchable production at the lowest-common-denominator end of the genre, but it boasts no individual appeal. Countless better options are available.

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