Red State

A review of a newish film to break up all the Star Whoring. You should know how this works by now. Attack of t’ Clones is up next.

Red State (2011)

Kevin Smith has had a bad run. In 2008, he tried to ape Apatow with Zack and Miri Make A Porno and succeeded in every way bar achieving the massive box office takings those films get. He then decided to direct a film he hadn’t written, Cop Out, which didn’t bring in the big bucks either and was rightfully panned as lazy, by-the-numbers pigswill. So, Smith decided to return to his indie roots with Red State, buying up the distribution rights himself and taking it across the U.S. and doing one of his famous Q&As afterwards. It’s a bold move and one I can’t help but be impressed by. Smith has stepped way outside of his comfort zone, written, edited and directed a “horror” film and distributed it in a way not seen before. That’s if you live in the exciting US of A. Here it’s just farted into cinemas like every other film. Just thought I’d give you some backstory. You’re welcome.

I fear God. You better believe I fear God.”

Red State begins with Travis (Michael Angarano) and his two friends Jared (Kyle Gallner) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) charmingly looking up loose women on a smartphone. After finding an older woman (Melissa Leo) who says she’ll take on all three greasy boys at the same time, our “heroes” drive to her trailer where they are slipped Rohypnol and wake up caged and bound in the local church. It is here they see the local fundamentalist congregation, led by the infamous preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), who firmly believes that homosexuals and sexual deviants should be executed in the name of the Lord. Some bad shit goes down and the ATF are called in, led by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman). First off, this ain’t the horror film it’s been billed as. It’s certainly got elements of  horror, especially “torture porn” titles like Hostel, but that isn’t really the main thrust of it all. In fact, I’m struggling to tell you what it was. It chops and changes genre and tone so often it’s actually quite hard to define. Still, the story held my attention and took a few interesting, if occasionally fucking barmy, turns. The actors are decent, with Michael Parks stealing the show and giving an amazing performance as Abin Cooper. John Goodman was good too and I liked Kerry Bishé as the resigned but desperate Cheyenne.

Don’t you just fucking hate those wankers that protest gay funerals with placards declaring that “God Hates Fags” and such? Yeah, me too. Red State is all about that kind of extremist fundamentalism. Abin Cooper preaches these horrible morals and reprehensible lessons to his captive (in both senses of the word) audience with all the frustratingly unrelenting confidence and conviction of a complete cunt. These early scenes are by far Red State‘s strongest, with Cooper’s lengthy, well-written monologues to his loving congregation building tension well and paying off with some properly disturbing stuff. It’s a shame that the film seemingly gets bored with all this and calls John Goodman in. Goodman brings the ruckus like you read about and the whole film goes all David Koresh, with an armed siege on an extremist religious complex making up the latter part of the film. This doesn’t work that well and feels sloppily handled. I wanted a gritty, palpable Michael Mann-style shootout, but was left disappointed. Smith isn’t used to directing action and it shows.

I’m not sure what point Red State was trying to make. There’s an obvious anti-extremist message here, but there’s some shady government business with the ATF agents later that didn’t really make any sense. The ending fools you into thinking it’s going to go a ludicrous, but undeniably entertaining way but ends up copping out (no pun intended). The teens aren’t paid much heed after the film clicks into action mode and plot points just end up going nowhere. Without spoiling too much, there’s a plot involving the possible redemption of Cheyenne which ends up being violently discarded. I’m sure this was meant to be shocking, but there’s too much of a clusterfuck to actually care about what happens. You can’t be shocked if you’re not connecting or engaging with what’s going on.

“People just do the strangest things when they believe they’re entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe.”
 Red State is a strange beast. It’s a massive departure from what you’d expect the creator of Clerks to come up with, but it feels more like an experiment than a fully-fledged movie. If I wasn’t familiar with the director’s work, I think I’d be considerably less impressed. There are some awesome ideas here and it’s almost worth watching for Parks’ performance alone. It’s an interesting if bleak watch, but too many things are mishandled for it to be anything other than a bit of a curio.

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