Red Mist

Red Mist (aka Freakdog) (2008)

Red Mist (aka Freakdog) first published by Film4, 10 Aug 2010

Summary: A disturbed young man seeks vengeance on his tormentors from beyond the grave coma, in Paddy Breathnach’s overtly derivative horror hybrid.

Review: Paddy Breathnach may already have been making dependable comedies –  I Went Down (1997), Blow Dry (2001), Man About Dog (2004) – for the last decade, but with Shrooms (2007) the Irish director appeared to be enjoying something of a second childhood. Deliriously blending the supernatural, the psychotropic and the downright psychotic, the film came across as a fanboy’s overwrought pastiche of favourite horror moments – just knowing enough to get away with its own derivativeness, and with a killer twist to give all those second-hand frights a new spin. Still, if Shrooms felt like the archetypal feature debut, then conversely Breathnach’s follow-up Red Mist (aka Freakdog) bears all the hallmarks of a sophomore effort. The tricks are much the same as before, but that only makes them seem all the less fresh this time around.     

Shy, epileptic ‘freakdog’ Kenneth Chisholm (Andrew Lee Potts) seems destined always to be an outsider. Still traumatised well into his adulthood after witnessing, as a young boy, the murder of his mother, he now works as a janitor in Forthaven teaching hospital, examining up close the female corpses in the morgue while worshipping medical student Catherine (Arielle Kebbel) from afar. One night he approaches her in a bar and, after having his drink spiked with drugs by her friends, he suffers a seizure, and ends up being callously dumped by them in the road outside the hospital. 

The following day Catherine learns that Kenneth is in a coma, and soon to be ‘switched off’. Wracked with guilt, she surreptitiously feeds the catatonic patient an experimental psychopharmacological compound, in the hope that it will bring his brain back to life. Yet then, as her friends are brutally murdered one by one, Catherine begins to suspect that she may have inadvertently helped Kenneth find a way to get inside the group – and her.  

In Red Mist, the cocktail is key. It is an illicit mixture of drink and drugs that sets the film’s first act into motion, and an untested combination of neurological pharmaceuticals that propels everything that follows. Likewise, the film itself is a heady blend of morality drama, psychological thriller, medical SF and bloody horror, all shaken and stirred together to have an unfamiliar and suitably intoxicating effect on the viewer – or at least that is the idea. Certainly the individual ingredients can still be discerned: the sociopathic med students from Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners (1990); the killer-in-a-coma from Richard Franklin’s Patrick (1978); the murderer who uses host bodies from Jack Sholder’s The Hidden (1987), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen (1998); the shadowy ghost visible only on security cameras from Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On: The Grudge (2003); and the disturbed young man whose childhood Oedipal trauma is revealed in flashback, as seen in literally hundreds of gialli and slashers before.   

Unfortunately Red Mist, unlike Shrooms, never really adds up to more than the sum of these parts, and even the final ‘twist’ proves no less familiar than the preceding material it is supposed to subvert. True, the death sequences are satisfyingly gory, the underlying ethics (don’t mix other people‘s drink and drugs, let sleeping patients lie) are deliciously warped, and Kenneth’s learning curve as he works out the different uses of his metempyschotic powers lends the narrative a pleasing sense of vengeance-driven escalation – but it is as though Breathnach is trying to relive a high long after the drugs have lost their strength. Like so many users, he has just ended up repeating himself. Apparently for his next project he is taking a break from horror and returning to comedy. Think of it as rehab.

Verdict: Paddy Breathnach’s second horror outing mixes genres and influences into a heady cocktail of supernatural revenge

Anton Bitel