It’s okay to admit it: plants can be a little frightening sometimes. I know I’ve jolted awake many a night, questioning if those ferns are still where I left them, or if they’ve slowly been creeping towards me as I slept. Surely you have too, as this is a perfectly normal and rational response to houseplants.
Yet for those few who aren’t yet terrified by roots and shrubs, you’re in luck. Deadline reports that the upcoming remake of Day of the Triffids has found its director, and that director is Mike Newell. Newell is a fairly odd choice; he’s most well-known for Four Weddings and a Funeral, which, if I recall correctly, did not contain giant plants that hunted and consumed hapless human prey. Yet Newell also directed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which Harry faced an enchanted hedge maze, so he’s got at least a little experience in this genre. There’s also a horror film or two lurking in the very beginning of Newell’s filmography, so he should be more than capable of handling this one.
And that would be terrific, because the “killer plant” film is woefully underused in the horror genre, and is more or less a laughingstock today. Yes, The Ruins exists, but The Ruins alone can’t make up for The Happening. Or multiple Attack of the Killer Tomatoes films. Also Little Shop of Horrors (terrific, but definitely not scary). Then there’s that one sequence in Jumanji, which may have petrified me as a child, but isn’t likely to make many adults shriek and hide under a blanket.
Man-eating plants, by their very definition, are kind of creepy. When some hapless bit player succumbs to another human being or some large, carnivorous animal, it makes sense, more or less. Slashers and vampires and really big sharks are “things” that can move around and display emotion and generally have some discernible character or purpose in life (even if that purpose is just offing hapless bit players). A big plant possesses none of these characteristics. It cannot display emotion; it has no character; it is simply a small part of a very big natural world. So when a plant kills a human, it’s less “X has been killed by Y,” and more, “X has been absorbed into a worldwide network of Y.” That, in itself, is kind of spooky.
Day of The Triffids, despite having been remade twice already (twin TV miniseries in 1981 and 2009) is easily the best plant-based horror to make use of that concept. There’s no explanation given for why the Triffids are Triffids or what caused plants to suddenly sprout root-legs and hunt man for sustenance. They display some form of intelligence, but move around in slow, shambling packs, like environmentally-conscious zombies. They’re an unexplainable, unavoidable force that threatens to overgrow the planet. Those vines from The Ruins were certainly menacing, but the local villagers were able to keep them in check with salt and infrequent tourist-murdering. The plants from The Happening took over the globe quite well, but fell flat on their face in terms of menace. Only the Triffids hit all the right notes to make plants truly monstrous.
In a perfect world, Newell (and Luther creator Neil Cross, who penned the screenplay) will give us a Day of the Triffids with a few The Thing-inspired practical creatures and a couple of genuine spooks and scares. But even if the film’s no good, at least there are still a few folks out there willing to give plant monsters another shot. And besides, the world needs a few more people who will whimper at the though of a large Caesar salad.