Saturday, February 7, 2009
RED MIST (2008) d. Paddy Breathnach
Reviewed by Rick Trottier
Most artists will tell you that having a good idea and some vivid colors are not enough to make a painting great. In addition to generating an interesting concept and utilizing vibrant hues, your painting has to evidence strong composition, tell a compelling story, create a sense of mood and eventually engage a viewer’s emotions so that they are left with a visceral reaction to the imagery in front of them. Since film is a visual media too, a lot of the elements of greatness are much the same and if a motion picture can’t say that it does most of what a painting does to achieve outstanding success then it will ultimately fall into the categories of mediocre or that of a failure. RED MIST is not a failure and has some praiseworthy qualities, but like a simple painting, it just wasn’t profound or original enough to be a transcendent cinematic experience.
RED MIST is the story of two very different people, Catherine Thomas and Kenneth Chisholm, brought together by their involvement in Forthaven General Hospital. Catherine is a talented and caring medical student at Forthaven, while Kenneth is a mentally challenged custodian with a troubled past and even more disturbing present. Catherine’s young, hip and insufferably amoral friend group goes out for a night of kicks and after a fateful run in with Kenneth, cause an accident that leaves him in a vegetative state, bed-ridden and on life support at Forthaven. Overwhelmed by guilt, Catherine eschews her usually lofty ethical standards to take a chance at saving Kenneth using a risky experimental narcotic compound that produces incredibly bizarre and deadly consequences for Catherine’s friends who begin turning up dead under the most grisly and alarming circumstances. Catherine must struggle with forces beyond her control to convince people of the terror that stalks the night before she too becomes a victim.
On the surface, it sounds like RED MIST would be a home run as a movie, for it seems to have all the elements; a morality play, suspense, murder, gore and a supernatural element added in for good measure. In addition to this promising plot concept, RED MIST has a young and attractive cast and is shot in Northern Ireland, which would sound like a pretty interesting and exotic location to create an engaging film. Like a painting with a good idea and cute colors that turns out to be somewhat unexciting, RED MIST has its good thought behind the plot and some pretty people to add a layer of decoration but it is missing or misuses much of what it needs to work effectively.
One of greatest weaknesses of RED MIST is its predictable and overused plot twists and construction. We start with a group of hot, self-centered young people who are cruel and thoughtless to a disabled person, all of the melodrama dependent upon a feeling of emotional discomfort in the viewer rather than true suspense or menace for it is obvious what the outcome will be. This initial kernel for conflict germinates into a larger seedling of drama built around an equally tired storyline dealing with the one character with a conscience who struggles to make herself heard in a sea of friends without ideals and who apply enough peer pressure to get her to accede to their demands. Sprinkle in remorse and guilt and you’ve got a narrative that has been done a thousand times before, whether it is summer campers and the prank that went wrong, ravers who drive drunk and hit the old man crossing the street or scientists experimenting with energies beyond imagination who let lose powers unrelenting. Grafted to this already hackneyed yarn is a paranormal revenge/slasher component that is just as predictable, so that nearly every moment in this motion picture can be seen coming a mile away. Adding to the troubles of the screenplay was a series of implausible “escapes” from harm that Catherine engineers as we approach the climax and then we return to a predictable and clichéd set of ideas for the conclusion. In the end, it is too bad because some competent and even mildly impressive performances are badly wasted. Most of the cast give steady, workmanlike portrayals of their characters that help to create a degree of intensity in the first half of the film, which was more drama than horror movie. Arielle Kebbel, who plays Catherine, gives the best performance and does a very good job selling her character’s struggles with her conscience and the even greater trials she endures when she is forced to abandon her professional ethics. Had there been more compelling twists and turns and more absorbing moments in the story, the efforts of the cast may not have felt quite so futile.
What also didn’t help the story was that its generally patient pace, a potential benefit, was canceled by the total lack of a spellbinding atmosphere. Being that this was a European production, it is entirely unsurprising that the story took its time, which is one of the reasons that modern European horror is usually superior to American horror. If the narrative is predictable though, a slower cadence can hamstring a film and create a degree of apathy or even boredom in a viewer. A potential savior is spectacular imagery. One of the best examples of a motion picture that was partly rescued by its richly atmospheric aura and how good it looked was Dario Argento’s INFERNO. INFERNO struggled with most of the rest of what makes a film great but its visual impact was thunderous. RED MIST is competently shot and has only a few instances of rapid editing, obnoxious handheld techniques and trendy “scare effects”. Most of the time, it is shadowy, albeit a tad gloomy, but you can see what is happening and the character’s expressions are conveyed efficiently. There are even some moments where interesting camera angles and some photographic techniques were employed, but that didn’t happen nearly enough to create a novel feel to the cinematography. One of the most pressing problems is that there isn’t much for eye to be challenged by architecturally, stylistically, artistically or even metaphysically. We are treated to a typical hospital and its environs, a few bar and dorm interior sets and a few uninteresting exterior sets when we usually get to see Arielle Kebbel jogging in a fairly unimpressive manner. The most compelling visuals are Miss Kebbel’s fathomless eyes and her trim, attractive figure displayed during non-jogging sequences. The death scenes were bloody and grisly on occasion, but they lacked panache. Only the death of Harriet was visually engaging but it was one of the shortest of the macabre segments, and most of the rest of the gore used old-hat slasher techniques or a style that bordered on “torture porn”. Fortunately, that repugnant angle was not overdone and this film was not overly gratuitous. For RED MIST’s patient storyline to be its strength, there needed to be a riveting plot and loads of atmosphere, and both were in short supply.
Where RED MIST does achieve a degree of greater triumph is in the bonus features menu. The first segment is a 21 minute “Making of Red Mist” featurette that is a fairly thorough and engaging blend of “behind the scenes” footage and cast & crew interviews. For those of you who found Miss Arielle Kebbel as appealing as I did, both as an actress and for visual reasons, there is a 9 minute segment called “Extended interview with Arielle Kebbel”. The lone American cast member, Miss Kebbel comes across as more than a pretty face and her ruminations on the RED MIST experience are relatively thoughtful. Finally, there is the most enjoyable segment of the entire disc; a 4 minute mini-feature called “Red Mist cast in Northern Ireland” that is a mix of travelogue and cast anecdotes about their days spent in the Emerald Isle’s northeast corner. What was somewhat frustrating about this last section was its short length and excellent landscape photography. I certainly could have used a much longer look at this beautiful region of the United Kingdom and the film RED MIST would have benefited from the imagery we were treated to in this too short but delightful extra. While not an overloaded and bursting at the seams bonus features menu, there is a lot to like about what was included and it made my viewing experience a little better than if it had been a bare bones disc.
RED MIST leaves an impression rather like the paintings that people see at one of those “starving artist” shows at the local Expo Center. The reason those artists are starving is their lack the inner fire, deficiency in brilliant insight or shortage of artistic integrity to create awe-inspiring masterworks. Much like a Three Musketeers bar, those paintings are sweet but the pleasure isn’t lasting or transfiguring. RED MIST may very well appeal to those who like tried and true narrative formats and don’t mind being taken down an excessively familiar road or those too young and inexperienced to know that it has all been done before. Others may enjoy RED MIST because visual imagery isn’t all that important to them or they don’t really have the schooling to look for something stirring in the camera work, so that to them “a kill is a kill”. RED MIST isn’t a bad movie, it just didn’t do anything to differentiate itself from all those who came before and have done it with more style, or in a schlockier fashion or with so much offensiveness that the “yuck-factor” was unforgettable. The people who wrote and filmed RED MIST need to brave their own trails, take chances in hopes of doing something original and leave old and worn out ideas in the pasture, waiting for their time to be taken to the glue factory and put down, making room for the fresh young studs who will bring renewal.