Red State Reviews
I hate to say it, but Kevin Smith is on a losing streak. Getting away from the immature, lower-class characters who characterized his early work and moving to action films like Cop Out has not treated Smith well. And Red State combines action with political undercurrents. I don't disagree with Smith's points - that religious zealotry leads to blindness, that the government doesn't always have everybody's well-being in mind, and that parts of the populace have too many guns and too little common sense. What i found troubling about the film was Smith's concentration on style over substance and his curious inability to construct a viable character arc. It is as though Smith set out to prove wrong everybody who said his direction was stagnant, and every time I found myself attached to a plot line, the character would die or the film would shift focus, never to return. The film truly is uncharacteristically uneven.
I did like Michael Parks's performance who plays the reverend with an odd combination of slyness and earnestness; one can never tell if he believes what he's saying, but he's convincing enough that one might understand why the proper audience might follow him.
Overall, Smith's latest is not a good film, and no matter how accurate his rifle of satire is, without a good story, the film will invariably be off the mark.
Shot on RED-ONE Digital cameras, the film is an overblown satirical commentary on the members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Ironically enough, the Westboro church members are actually mentioned by name in the film as a comparison to the fictional fanatical church members in the film. The movie starts out following a trio of teenage boys searching through local online sex lines, trying to find loose local women. They trek out to the woman's house (a mobile home in the woods) and then, while consuming the woman's alcohol, are drugged and pass out. They awake during a fanatical church sermon by the main antagonist of the film, Abin Cooper (played by Michael Parks), which I now consider to be one of the scariest performances put on screen in recent years. The rest of the film depicts the efforts of these boys to flee the compound and the fervent beliefs of all of the church members referring to homosexuality and its subsequent effects on humanity.
With superb cast members such as John Goodman (The Big Lebowski), Patrick Fischler (Mulholland Drive), Kevin Pollak (The Usual Suspects) and Melissa Leo (The Fighter), and a range of various other talent, the acting in this film is realistic, well blocked and very captivating. These performances are helped along by the brilliant cinematography by David Klein, which creates a taught and anxious setting where audiences are taken to face the horrors that the characters are living through, and we suffer along with them, whether we want to or not. All of these elements (along with superb art design by Susan Bolles ("Scrubs") and Cabot McMullen ("Spin City")) Kevin Smith directs his screenplay extraordinarily well, which contain very length and passionate monologues, and very testing scenes of violence and torture. However, unlike the many works of directors Eli Roth (Hostel) and Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw Franchise), these scenes are not placed to get solely a shock factor, they comment on the dangers of unchecked ideology in the face of fanaticism, similar to the tyrannical ways of Jim Jones hold over the People's Temple.
It is scary, realistic, and wickedly funny when it wants to be, thrilling and complex. Are there elements that could use work? Of course, as any movie would say, but what Red State does well, it does it extremely well. A film that so many have ignored for the past year, it is a movie that can soothe the wants and tastes of many a movie fan.
Director: Kevin Smith
Summary: Director Kevin Smith puts a unique spin on the horror genre in this tale of hormonal urges gone awry. Three high school boys answer an online ad from a woman seeking wild sex and soon find themselves in the hands of some dangerous religious zealots.
My Thoughts: "This is an perfect example why people fear church, not God, but church. Religion is strong in this film and so is a harsh look at what the government is capable of. I didn't think you could be so scared of a preacher man, but then I watched Michael Parks as Abin Cooper, quite frightening. I've red comments about people saying it's an anti-christian film. I disagree. I think it's a film based on some people who take their religous beleifs too far. I heard that the Westboro Baptist Church picketed every screening and that Kevin Smith actually gave them tickets to see the film. I think that was brilliant. They have their rights to preach and believe what they will, but doing it at funerals is just wrong. Kevin Smith really has stepped out of his norm with this film, and I'd like to see more. The film is thought-provoking, darkly funny, and as twisted as one gets. The great cast and fantastic acting really brings this indie horror/thriller to life. It's definitely one people are going to either love or hate."
The film starts off in rather typical Smith fashion with three vulgar horny teens on the prowl trying to arrange group sex with a woman online. When they go to meet up with her, that's when things get nuts. Turns out she a member of a group of psychotic fundamentalist religious extremists a la Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church, and the three teens have been lured into a trap set by the church to demonstrate the act of righteous action. Word gets out about the disappearance of the three and soon the ATF are on the scene and the film shifts again into a full blown showdown reminiscent of notorious incidents at Ruby Ridge and Waco.
So, there you go: sex shenanigans, to a horror type of thing, to an action flick. All in all, it's best to just call this a thriller, given the shifting tone of things. I kinda liked the left turns this makes, similar to From Dusk Till Dawn, though not as fun or strong overall. Also, the film isn't funny. It's not supposed to be. There were maybe a couple of ties I got somewhat tickled, but it was of the gallows variety of humor, and probably not intended, but not in the bad kind of unintentional laughter type of way.
The film has a lot of neat and good things going for it. It's a great concept for a thriller, and, even though religious nuts are an easy target, there's still enough in the well to make for great discourse and discussion. As per usual though, Smith is better with the ideas than with the execution. He does a decent enough job though, even though the end result is still a flawed mixed bag.
I'll start with the bad so I can end strong. Smith's films are talky. This is no secret. This one is too, maybe a little too talky for its own good. The sermon that serves as the centerpiece is great though, that's not where the film is too talky. Where the film struggles the most if with the conclusion. It ends rather abruptly and there's way too much exposition to explain how it concludes, but even then some of the specifics are kidn of neat. It jsut needed to be more tidy and show far more than tell. It's an uneven film, but that's hard to fault too much since genre shifting is involved. Still though, Smith's been doing this long enough to have learned something about filmmaking by now.
Okay, here's where the film works: great concept, great cast, strong performances. Michael Parks is a notable character actor, but this is a real showcase for his talents that will hopefully lead him to more prominent and substantial roles. He's chillingly effective as the hateful church leader Abin Cooper and makes for a compelling antagonist. Melissa Leo is also good, though perhaps a tad overboard as his nutty daughter Sara who lures the boys in and gets the film going. John Goodman is quite strong as the ATF agent in charge of bringing the church down. Even though the diasppearance of the boys is somewhat important, the film points out that the church was already being targeted, and the part with the boys is more of a catalyst. Stephen Root is decent as a local sherrif, Kyle Gallner is fine as one of the three teens, and Kerry Brishe is good as one of the church followers who actually seems sympathetic.
That's another thing. This film boldly decides to have basically no characters that are really all that sympathetic and likeable. Sure, it makes the film harder to relate to, as well as harder to care about the characters, but in a way, it seems more realistic that way, and adds an interesting dimension of moral ambiguity that just further strengthens the film's "interesting" level.
All in all, this is a tough nut to crack. I should probably dock this by a half star, as it doesn't totally come together and work as a coherent whole, but I'll be nice and give it some credit becuase it is an experiment, and sees Smith trying to branch out and do somethign different. Plus, it is very compelling, has osme really good performances, and it's cool seeing the film keep you guessing with the shifts.
As a horror movie, it's pretty decent, but it sort of fizzles out by the finale, and the ending is something you'll either think is clever or not as clever as Kevin Smith thought it was. Red State earned enough goodwill from me during its disturbing first half to carry me through its trigger-happy, tone-shifted latter half and earn it a slightly positive rating. Check it out to sate your curiosity, but don't expect to be blown away.