Starring: Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun, Michael Parks, John Goodman
Plot: Three horny teens Travis (Angarano), Jared (Gallner) and Billy Ray (Braun) who heads out to the countryside to meet up with an older woman, who has invited them out with the prospect of casual group sex, unaware they are being lured into a trap by the local fundamentalist church, lead by the highly controversial Pastor Abin Cooper (Parks). While attempting to escape one of the boys a violent stand off between the FBI and the church is triggered, with the boys now finding themselves caught in the middle as they try to escaping the increasingly escalating situation, especially with the church members refusing to go without a fight.
Review: Bursting onto the independent film circuit with his debut film “Clerks”, Kevin Smith emerged as an exciting new voice in independent cinema, with Smith soon developing a reputation for films featuring clever dialogue and frequent pop culture references, though despite his early films showing great promise, he soon seemed to be selling out his writing talent for the easier laughs of dick and fart jokes with many of his fanbase seeing the controversial “Dogma” which poked fun at Catholism and Catholic Dogma as the high water mark of his talent, especially with the films which followed such as the underrated “Jersey Girl” frequently failing to hit the same levels of humour as his earlier films. An option which was seemingly reinforced as the humour seemingly started getting lazier as Smith began favouring toilet humour over clever dialogue which had made his earlier films so memorable let alone quotable to a whole generation of film fans. Now just as I had given up on Smith actually making a film comparable to his early work again, especially after seemingly hitting rock bottom with “Cop Out”, he goes and releases “Red State”, a film which is not only a radical return to form for Smith, but also a bold change in direction as it also marks Smith’s first supposed venture into the Horror genre.
“Red State” is almost like Smith returning to the same indie roots from which he first emerged, with the film being made for 4 million his lowest budget since “Chasing Amy” and it’s also without the financial or distribution assistance of the Weinsteins who have supported Smith’s career on nearly all of his films, with Smith taking up the duties of self distributing the film Stateside via travelling roadshow, before releasing the film direct to DVD, citing it a response to the costs spent by studios on advertising, yet it seems that he has changed his mind for the UK release which has saw the film being promoted via numerous TV spots and Phone Box advertising for a full cinema release.
When it comes to drawing comparisons Smith seems to be making it very clear on were he is drawing his inspiration from, seemingly setting his sights on infamous pastor Fred Phelps and the highly controversial Westboro Baptist Church, who frequently cause controversy by picketing the funerals of dead soldiers and gays, with the Phelps earning the moniker of “America’s Most Hated Family” and seeing Michael Parks giving passionate rants about the moral failings of America, it is hard to dispute that Smith has created a character who embodies the hatred of Fred Phelps, even though Smith has not openly admitted that the character is supposed to be Phelps, stating that he instead represents “A Phelp(s) like figure” aswell as that the film is about those same subjects, view points and Phelps own position taking it to the absolute extreme and turning this group of radical Christian into a bunch of gun hording and quick to anger fundamentalists. Still this did not stop Wesboro picketing the film, only to be greeted by a rival protest group comprising of Director Smith and fans who also significantly outnumbered the Wesboro group.
Despite starting out like a typical Smith esq plot and some mild toilet humour, as the boys set out in pursuit of casual sex with an older woman, it soon become alot more darker than anything we have previously seen from Smith, especially with the church members treatment of their captives, meanwhile the boys are soon pushed to the sidelines around the halfway mark with Paster Cooper and the FBI’s Special Agent Keenan (Goodman) stepping up to take over as the leads, which comes as a surprise especially after building up the three young leads, but when Goodman and Parks are responsible for the two strongest performances in the film it’s hardly detrimental, with Goodman looking to have lost alot of weight recently, but certainly none of his screen presence, as he gives a largely shouty performance here, as he tries to take control of the situation which continues to rapidly spiral out of control. Meanwhile the rest of the characters are generally given the bare bones of characterisation with the all of Cooper’s group being generally of the same mind set and mainly provide targets for the FBI agents, while the local police get slightly more attention with fun characters such as the local sheriff desperately trying to cover for his closeted homosexuality, which Pastor Cooper taunts him with to keep him under his control.
One of the main themes being examined here is the power of religion and more importantly how it can be twisted to suit one man’s crusade, a popular subject in recent years having so memorably been explored in “Martyrs” as it is here if perhaps not as so deeply especially with Smith opting for an ending slightly less biblical then original planned one which included giant armoured angels and the four horsemen of the apocalipse all putting in an appearance.
What is especially intresting here though is that Smith has clearly got over his supposed fear of directing action, having stated in previous interviews that he generally avoided it due to the amount of effort it requires to direct such scenes, which only adds to the surprise here, when essentially the second half of the film is one big shoot out sequence, which will either make or break this film for you depends on how much of an action fan you are, while also seemingly echoing the 1993 Waco Siege, while no doubt breaking the record for the largest amount of shots fired in a single movie.
Despite Smith claiming that this is a Horror movie it’s claim that is way off the mark, for despite some elements of Horror and the setup in the early half of the film, all of these element vanish as soon as it turns into a siege movie, so anyone going into this one expecting to be scared whitless are only going to be painfully disappointed as this one is essentially more of a popcorn action flick than anything even close to Horror, but then the same could said for the “Askew Universe” fans coming out expecting to see appearances by Jay and Silent Bob, as this film seemingly belongs in a whole other universe to those other films and it’s also one were even Ben Affleck or any of Smith’s usual acting troupe don’t appear, almost as if Smith is keen to prove that he can stand on his own as a director without the support of his friends.
While “Red State” is bound to isolate the more serious movie goer, who likes some substance with their movies and while certainly not a serious dissection of certain more fanatical groups, “Red State” is still a blast of a movie which if you liked what you see in the trailer, it will certainly not disappoint you and while perhaps the ending might be a bit of a letdown, the journey there is so much fun it is easy to overlook and compared to the plans for the original ending seems focused morally on ensuring that the power stays with the right group. Still if your looking for a fun night out you could do a lot worse than this, so why not switch off your brain and enjoy as this is some pure cinematic junk food for the soul!