Red State (2011)
(18) Running time: 86 minutes
Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Kevin Smith makes the move into horror with the controversial and at times thought provoking, Red State. With Smith’s previous output showing a slight hatred for religious fanatics, Red State pushes into much more dangerous and sinister realms, and with this being a serious film as opposed to his usual comedic style, things do get mighty controversial. Red State will no doubt please Smith’s devoted fans; whilst others may find some of the content a little too strong, and may well feel outraged at some of the films brutal honesty and portrayal of religious fanatics.
The film starts as it means to go on as a funeral in a country town in Middle America is disturbed by religious protestors. Lead by vicious preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks in one of the best performances of the year!) the protestors are all members of his cult like following, brandishing signs out how homosexuality is the Devil’s work, the funeral they are protesting at is that of a local gay man. Controversy has set in a mere five minutes into the film, and it will get worse. Three lads hungry for sex find a local woman willing to have a foursome with them, and one night they head out to her caravan in the hope of a good time. One of the lads borrows his Dads car; they crash into the car of the local Sherriff, leaving a small amount of damage but decide to carry on for their night of sex. The local Sherriff was in his car, having oral sex with another man, oh dear! After meeting Sara (Melissa Leo) the lads are drugged, tied up and taken to Cooper’s Baptist Church where they are due to be punished for having sex before marriage. Punishment is also dished out on a local gay man in brutal fashion, and Preacher Cooper speaks to his followers in a ten minute speech guaranteed to offend just about everyone.
In the breathtakingly controversial speech Cooper justifies some recent natural disasters as God’s way of having a bit of a clear out, he also explains how all manner of things against their religious beliefs should not go un-punished, including homosexuality (something which really sets the rage into Cooper), sex before marriage and many other things I daren’t mention. Parks’ performance is stunning and shocked as you are at some of what he says, it is hard to look away and somehow you hang on every word, stunned at each next level of belief. It is a brave performance and the pivotal scene of the film, showing just how dangerous religion can be, and how easy it is for some to be brainwashed. Smith has outdone himself here with his writing abilities and really paints a worrying picture of one particular religion. The punishment dished out is so brutal that the children have to leave, and during such horrific acts, Cooper casually plays the piano and sings. This first half of the film plays out like a real horror and is very good indeed as you really do not know what direction the film will take, and sudden moments of unexpected shocks mean you just don’t know if the kids will make it out alive.
The second half is an altogether different movie as John Goodman is called in the assist the local Sherriff with his team of agents, which includes the always excellent Kevin Pollack. The second half is essentially a siege movie as the agents battle it out with the God worshiping fanatics who have a rather large collection of big guns, and aint afraid to use them. Goodman’s Joseph Keenan takes over the film as the focus shifts to him, and his superb portrayal of a man who must play by the rules is fantastic. His presence cannot be ignored as he bellows orders and talks casually with his men about the need to follow orders. All the tension is lost here, and we get the odd moment of comedy as well, and the dark toned beginnings have now lead way to a simple Grindhouse style action film. Smith directs his action quite well, but it is clear he is still learning and doesn’t quite pull it off. However, a sinister twist does wonders to give you a massive jolt come the end as the film wraps up in fine fashion.
Red State is a hit and miss film, but an enjoyable one with great characters and plenty of stuff to get you thinking about the world we live in today. Be it the religious ramblings of a brutal preacher, the importance of following orders, but also the morally wrong reason for those orders, it even touches on terrorism and offers up a sinister way of dealing with terrorists and how easy it is to be labelled as one. The film is full of controversy and discussions which you will find yourself questioning and at times you will be looking for your own justifications. There are messages here, although they are mixed, and with a film of two halves, none of the messages manage to hit home with quite the amount of impact I imagine Smith was hoping for. However, hats off to him for delving into new territory and coming up with something which is actually pretty good. Smith shows of a keen eye for brilliant camera work too as we get a jittery, intrusive camera for the scenes which need it. During Cooper’s big speech, the camera waves in and out at all angles to really push his message, and a superb scene involving someone running from the Church with a camera attached to them is a work of brilliance. I guess the main thing that comes out of watching Red State is that Smith clearly has a lot of talent, and with a bit more discipline I believe he has some real classics to bring us in the future.