3 October 2011

RED STATE- Video Review

None of the critical brou-ha-ha surrounding Kevin Smith and Red State is anywhere near as interesting as the film itself, and so I'll waste no time recounting it. Red State is nominally a horror film, but it's also more complex than it appears in the trailers. Either way, for a director who's primarily known for Jay and Silent Bob, and the "View Askewniverse", it's a marked change of pace.

Jarod, Travis and Billy Ray are horny teens living in King's County, a mid-American town that's noted for its proximity to Cooper's Dell, home of the Five Points Trinity Church. The Catholic fundamentalist sect is led by pastor Abin Cooper, and is comprised of bigoted gun nuts who ritually execute homosexuals in their private church services. The three boys are ensnared by the Coopers, when they go out into the woods on the promise of a foursome with a hot housewife online, leading to a confrontation of biblical proportions.

After seeing the film, I was joined by Rob Simpson from Double Take, and Andy Winward of But We're British for another One Mile Review. As Rob practically lives in the countryside, it was considerably longer than one mile this time, but I've edited our immediate spoiler-heavy reactions to the film down to a manageable length. My spoiler-free text review follows.



Smith wrote, directed and edited Red State, and even has the tiniest of cameo roles in it too. However, while I say this as a card-carrying fan of Smith's work, it wouldn't immediately be obvious that it's his at all. There are little tells in the script, but it's such a massive self-reinvention that I couldn't pick it out of a line-up as a Kevin Smith movie. I believe he's made many good movies, so the quality is not the issue, but it should be billed as a Kevin Smith movie precisely for the fact that it's so unexpected.

The film's three acts each focus on the famous taboo topics in polite conversation- Sex, Religion and Politics. In the first aspect, Smith is practically a scholar by now, and he also broached religion with Dogma. The politically inflected element of the film, evident in the title but more inflammatory in the action itself, reveals Red State as far more than its fish-in-a-barrel satire of the Westboro Baptist Church. There's a fascination with freedom of speech, and with the rightness of authority, as equally morbid as the film's representation of religious fundamentalism.

As I'm sure you've heard by now, Michael Parks is extraordinary as Abin Cooper. His barnstorming showcase moment is a ten minute sermon to his followers, which makes a potentially laborious section into an electrifying and transfixing monologue, courtesy of Smith's writing and Parks' nuanced, dangerous performance. Cooper is ostensibly calm and homespun, but prone to manic and passionate outbursts based around his terrible beliefs. While Red State is bound to provoke discussion, the question on everybody's lips should be how the hell we've never heard of an actor as strong and as experienced as Parks.

He's surrounded by a supporting cast who give it the proverbial 110%, made up of great actors who Smith describes as "well-known unknowns." Melissa Leo hadn't won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar at the time of shooting, but neither is she the biggest deal as fervent family woman Sara Cooper. It's John Goodman who steals most of the limelight, giving a rumpled but fierce performance as Joe Keenan, a well-meaning ATF agent who runs into moral and professional difficulty when his arrival in Cooper's Dell actually makes things ten times worse.

Also exceptional, even amongst a cast on the top of their game, is Kerry Bishé, otherwise best known for her lead role in the final season of Scrubs, who completely nails the crucial role of Cheyenne. In a film that's unabashedly perplexing to a multiplex crowd, she's the most sympathetic character, while parroting her family's loathsome rhetoric at the same time. There's no room to salute every performance in the film, but I had a good stab at it on Den of Geek last week.

The strength of the film is in its ability to constantly redefine itself as circumstances escalate, which is less schizophrenic, as some has sniped, and much more unpredictable. I don't think the controversial ending is a cop-out either, but instead, something of a structural triumph. It makes you uncertain of what to believe, and then wraps up in a way that is quintessentially Kevin Smith. There are scenes in which his script is uncharacteristically more functional than sharp or witty, but the breakneck pace of the thing is hugely effective.

Red State isn't Smith's masterpiece, but neither is it the disaster that his detractors have suggested. It is, however, very good in its own right, with a fantastic cast on top of their game, a script that is essentially both troubled and troubling in its difficult subject matter, and a lean, mean 88 minute running time. Smith is confrontational without alienating his audience, and it's gratifying to see a genuinely unpredictable film unfold. It's not a horror film in most conventional senses, but rather a very scary story about human nature.


Red State is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen Red State, why not share your comments below? Let me see how many fellow Garmy members read this review...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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