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Red State (2011)
- Kevin Smith Movies (#8)
Red State is a 2011 American independent action-horror film, written and directed by Kevin Smith, starring Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Stephen Root. The film co-stars Ralph Garman, Kevin Pollak, Kerry Bishé, Haley Ramm, Kevin Alejandro, Anna Gunn, Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano, and Nicholas Braun. For months, Smith had maintained that the rights to the film would be auctioned off to a distributor at a controversial event to be held after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, but instead Smith purchased the film himself which, according to analysts, "might have been a difficult sale for any distributor." Smith originally planned to self-distribute the picture under the "Smodcast Pictures" banner with a traveling show in select cities, before officially releasing the movie on October 19, 2011. Kevin Smith listed Mel Gibson as his inspiration for how he planned to distribute this movie, citing Gibson's The Passion of the Christ as an example of a successfully self-distributed movie. On June 28, 2011, Smith announced a one-week run in Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema (making the film and its actors eligible for Academy Award consideration).
What is Red State? Is it an anti-God movie? Meh, yes and no. Anti-Christian? Depends on the Christian, it turns out. Anti-sex? Well, it's a Kevin Smith move, so maybe not that, although in the great horror tradition, hanky-panky is the ultimate harbinger of death. Anti-government? You wouldn't think it till towards the end, but yeah. It kind of is.
As a writer (and in the media), Kevin Smith has never made any bones about voicing his opinion; he's one of our most outspoke (and best, although the two are not necessarily related) writers, and when he gets his panties in a bunch, it typically makes for a pretty fascinating script. Dogma and Clerks, though both comedies, each carried a kind of tongue-in-cheek anger towards concepts like organized religion and adulthood. Jay and Silent Bob are the ultimate slacker rebels, raging against a machine where they can't even be bothered to figure out what it is.
But when a movie's enemy is everything and everyone, all that's left to do is enjoy it for what it is; in that regard, Smith's horror debut, Red State, is a frustratingly fantastic movie that would be better and leave more of an impact if it bothered to take some kind of a side. The movie doesn't carry Smith's tademark wit or subtlety, but then again, when your villains are a bunch of gun-toting fundamentalists, there's only so much wiggle room to play it low-key. the film is beautifully made and wonderfully acted, with an ending that can best be described as happy-ish and an outstanding villain. It is, in other words, the exact prototype for a good, not great, horror movie.
All of which is a testament to Smith the writer; he's a comedian by trade but Red State's script is a great throwback to horror classics; The Texas Chain Saw Massacre comes immediately to mind because the movie seems to put a lot of its weight behind romanticizing, or at least rationalizing, its killer.
And what a killer he is: as Abin Cooper, patriarch and pastor to the movie's batch of crazies, Michael Parks (Kill Bill, From Dusk Till Dawn) preens to and fro like a hyena, Smith's camera lovingly framing his craggy face and shock-white hair in towering, low-angle close-ups. The preacher backs up his fire-and-brimstone sermons with a big armory, and within five minutes of meeting him, it's easy to tell why he is revered and followed, and why his word is enough to convince his family to tie up and murder kidnapped homosexuals.
Granted, you could argue that the movie sides with the three good ol' boy teenagers (Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun and Michael Angarano) who fall into Cooper's clutches, but things go south for them pretty fast, so it's hard to imagine any sympathy for them on the filmmakers' part. Ditto for the honest but outranked G-man (John Goodman) who enters in the second act, when the movie turns into a shoot-em-up hostage situation. He exists mainly to play the straight man in this madhouse, embody the corruption of government (he's ordered to kill innocent children when the Coopers are classified as terrorists), and to deliver what amounts to the film's message during a debriefing at the very end of the movie.
But the movie tends to find its feet more when Cooper's front and center, although there is very strong supporting work from Melissa Leo, True Blood vets Stephen Root and Kevin Alejandro, and Kerry Bishé from Scrubs. Smith's style translates well into horror, and he proves himself a skilled master of suspense with quick cuts and herky-jerky cinematography; each character is framed lovingly with blood during the climax, just enough to highlight the kind of weird natural beauty of life in jeopardy. A supernatural twist towards the end is handled extremely well, when it could have brought the move to a screeching halt.
All in all, it's a hell of a movie and a mark of Smith's talent, but Red State falls short of his pantheon because for the first time, we don't know who he's mad at. He sprays vitrol anywhere and everywhere; there re no villains and no heroes, only those who believe and those who do not. It's an interesting idea but somewhat lost in the execution; the fury is clearly there, what's missing is the focus and power of righteousness.