October 11, 2014


Leaving behind the comfortable cheese of the 1950s, here is THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, a British production from 1962. Based on the novel by John Wyndham, the film focuses on the aftermath of a large meteor shower, a terrible rash of blindness that effect whole cities across the globe. Rendered sightless, people are preyed upon by Triffids, tall, sentient plants capable of devouring humans. Saved from the blindness by the gauze he was wearing after an eye operation, the film follows Bill Masen, an American Army officer. Masen wakes up in the hospital to find the world has gone to shit. Trying to catch a train out of the city, Masen finds a young orphan named Susan, also able to see. Meanwhile, an alcoholic scientist and his wife are stranded on an island, desperately trying to find a way to stop the Triffids as the killer plants inch ever closer.

I’m not sure what to make of this film really. It’s an incredibly slow going affair with only a handful of set pieces. Howard Keel is completely anti-charismatic as Masen and the supporting cast is barely given enough screen time to make much of an impression. The special effects are a real mixed bag and the action scenes barely register a pulse. Worse, the film ends with a ridiculous deus ex machina discovery about the Triffids that recalls the horrible endgame of M. Knight Shyamalan’s SIGNS. Still, it has a strange aura about it. The sparse locations and eerie musical score both work well and the film, though it doesn’t indulge too much in it, has a few scenes that flirt with what would happen to society if a quick, irreversible collapse of this sort would happen. If only the film had more of that sort of thing.

There’s a strange split in the narrative. The Masen and Susan half of the story feels like a road film and moves along similar narrative lines to an early zombie film. Bouncing from London to Spain, this is the half of the narrative that is packed with unexplored potential. It’s perfunctory and passable but could have been more. The other half (though honestly the split is more like 80/20), Dr. Goodwin and his wife Karen, is where the sci-fi elements really come into play. Lots of gobbledygook science talk and people asking themselves questions aloud are present but so is the more interesting story. Two people trapped in a building, trying to work out a solution to the Triffid problem as the killer plants move ever closer… that would work perfectly well as a horror film. Unfortunately, we spend so much time away from the Goodwins that we practically forget they’re even in the film.

There have been other adaptations of Wyndham’s novel, both on radio and on television. So far, none of the adaptations have nailed the dark, grim tone of the source work. This film comes close at times but it always veers off into some other direction or underplays the drama in favor of monotony. Yes, there are some good moments here but THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS is simply too routine for me to recommend.

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