"So Kenneth's somehow taken over people's bodies
and killing us one at a time? Have I got that right?"
One of the few problems with the stylish Patrick--that 1978 thriller about a comatose patient getting telekinetic revenge from his hospital bed--was the sometimes snail-like pace that made the film feel like a made-for-TV movie. While not officially a remake of Richard Franklin's ode to Hitchcock, Red Mist (a limp, pointless title that doesn't provoke excitement or fear) borrows heavily from the story--and tries really hard to overcome its direct-to-video origins.
Directed by Paddy Breathnach (Shrooms) and shot in his native Ireland, Red Mist (aka Freakdog) follows a familiar structure that comes straight out of Horror 101's "How-To" book. We immediately meet soon-to-be victim Kenny (Andrew Lee Potts), an oddball janitor at an American med school. He's got some traumatic memories of his slutty mom's demise, which has scarred him in more ways than one: He's socially awkward, especially around women (who he likes to spy on in the locker room); he's got a fascination with the morgue's dead bodies; and then there's that self-mutilation problem...
It would be in Kenny's best interest to avoid those cruel partying students who want to have a little fun with him after they discover he has an incriminating video. But poor "Creepy Kenny" ("Freakdog" to his tormenters) can't help himself: He has a crush on beautiful brainiac Catherine (Arielle Kebbel of The Uninvited, The Grudge 2 and John Tucker Must Die), the only sympathetic soul in a gang of bullies. (I'm guessing the similarities to Terror Train and its own oddball-turned-killer Kenny are intentional.)
Cat's posse includes best friend/blond bitch Kim (Sarah Carter), goth Harriet (Katie McGrath), Johns Hopkins-bound love interest Jake (Alex Wyndham), bartender/med student/new father Steve (Michael Jibson), timid follower Yoshimi (Christina Chong) and ringleader Sean (Martin Compston)--who spearheads the prank that leaves the epileptic Kenny in a coma at a bar after hours. Instead of owning up to their mistake, the group (against Cat's wishes) decides to anonymously drop Kenny off outside the hospital and go about their lives.
But Cat's conscience gets the best of her, and when she hears about a risky drug intended to spark neural regeneration in coma patients, she sneaks into Kenny's room and injects him with the experimental medication. Her shenanigans eventually catch the attention of the jaded Dr. Harris (Stephen Dillane), whose checkered past and failed experiments hint at potential problems. Sadly, a hinted-at subplot (where Kim suggests someone knows their secret and is on to them) isn't utilized.
And faster than you can say "I know what you did last semester," Kenny possesses an unknowing security guard to murder Yoshimi (who, if you ask me, totally deserved it after showing shocking disregard for Cat's safety). Soon, the med students are sitting ducks, murdered one by one with each injection into Kenny's system. Cat scrambles to protect the survivors and her own reputation as a detective starts to ask questions--and Dr. Harris gets his own ideas.
Considering its low-budget roots, Red Mist does an admirable job at making the most with what it has--for a DTV horror film, this looks pretty professional. There isn't that much gore (some kills are off camera), but Breathnach works around it. The acting is (mostly) admirable--Kebbel is convincing as the troubled heroine, and injects some humanity and believability into a script overflowing with thinly drawn characters. She carries the film about as well as anyone could, and Carter also has some charisma (but is underused).
But you'll be bothered by some of their accent-challenged co-stars (the mostly U.K. cast tries to sound American, but can't always pull it off--Jibson is perhaps the most guilty, but a few of them slip up). The only huge problem lies with McGrath, who sticks out with her over-the-top portrayal of the unnecessarily cruel Harriet, the least likely med student in the history of the world (I'm guessing they let McGrath perform with her accent because she wasn't good enough to fake one, which kinda makes we wish they let her try for my own amusement).
Maybe the filmmakers were so concerned with making the production look professional that they lost track of the characters, plot and pacing. While I commend Breathnach and his cast and crew with putting care into the film's construction, nothing here is surprising or scary. Events unfold with painful predictability, making the film too formulaic to really enjoy. We don't spend nearly enough time with the victims, and many potential suspense-building stalk sequences are abandoned (I also question why one person was killed so darn early, wasting a potentially powerful payback).
The wheels start to fall off a little at the beginning of the final act, where a silly escape from a wimpy detective (uh, where are all the security guards?!) reinforces the film's lack of originality (but I still loved the face-slam nod to Disturbing Behavior). Still, the film is stylish and the ending is decent (even if you see it coming); you can find much worse ways to kill 82 minutes, and it's nice to see that a limited budget doesn't inhibit technical quality. Red Mist does a lot right, and with The Descent's MyAnna Buring showing up for one of the more memorable scenes, aren't you just a little curious?
The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer looks pretty strong for a DTV effort, although it's a tad too dark. Some grain pops up, especially in the darker scenes where the black levels aren't always uniform. Still, there's some nice detail that will surprise you in spots, like skin detail in some of the close-ups.
The 5.1 track is heavily geared toward the front, and a few effective touches are used. But the dialogue is sometimes slightly overshadowed, not standing out as strongly as it should (which is more noticeable in the earlier scenes). English subtitles are available.
A modest yet mildly entertaining collection of interviews (all in lower quality full-frame video) are included. The Making of Red Mist (19:30) visits director Paddy Breathnach, writer Spence Wright and all of the principal cast save for Andrew Lee Potts. They talk about their attraction to the project, the director's style and their characters: "I have to fall in love with all of my characters," says Sarah Carter, "so even when I'm playing a seemingly horrible human being, there's always a reason, right?"
The Arielle Kebbel extended interview (8:48) includes some of the same clips as the main featurette, but allows her to share a lot more about her experience and choices. She notes that she talked with Breathnach about altering some of Cat's traits (and plot points) before accepting the role, and always felt at ease with him. She also talks about her co-stars, and how she was attracted to the idea of performing with so many British thespians--one of whom stole her thunder: "I told Martin (Compston), 'It's not fair!' On paper, he reads just like the classic dick, but in real life he made Sean so funny and fun that I was like, 'Oh great! American girls are just gonna love him!'"
The Red Mist Cast in Northern Ireland (4:05), a collection of thoughts from most of the actors on the location, rounds out the package, concluding with a nice story from Kebbel.
I'm always in the mood for a good old fashioned payback story that follows the slasher formula, but Red Mist is a tad too predictable for its own good. While the direction and acting is far better than you'll see in most other direct-to-video thrillers, there's nothing truly original or scary here. Red Mist certainly isn't as slow as Patrick--the other revenge-from-a-coma-patient's-hospital-bed flick that it borrows heavily from--but it's also not nearly as successful. Still, for genre enthusiasts it isn't a waste of time--this is a quality effort. I strongly encourage you to Rent It, flaws and all.