Wednesday, 28 September 2011

'Red State' Review

'Red State' (dir: Kevin Smith, 2011) Cert: 18

Over the last few years, Kevin Smith (or that Kevin Smith as he likes to call himself) has built a rather broken and unsettled relationship with film critics. From his humble Indie beginnings, Smith has always been a bit of a 'sweetheart' in cinema, much like Quentin Tarantino, but after his last entry - the awful 'Cop Out', Smith is determined to stay very much in critics' bad-books. After retracting the UK première and various press screenings of 'Red State' (because he believes the only people who should see his movies are those who pay), an increasing wave of negativity has been bubbling around his latest but is it fair to judge the picture itself on Smith's irrational behaviour? I think not.

 After visiting a website for meeting sex partners, Jarod (Kyle Gallner), Travis (Michael Angarano) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) head out to meet their mystery woman for a night after receiving a sexual invitation. However after they arrive, things aren't all as they seem and soon the boys find themselves at the hands of a fundamentalist society with a cruel and sinister agenda.

 'Red State's theatrical posters sport the tagline 'An unlikely film from that Kevin Smith' which quite simply sums up the entire experience perfectly; this is an unlikely film with an unlikely narrative, but most importantly, it's unlikely we will ever see Smith hit this directorial high again. He may have ticked a few off as of recent, but 'Red State' is a fantastic example of the man's script to screen talents. As the film opens, audiences are slumped into familiar territory - blue language, crass humour and teens dwelling in the sexual fantasies but there's something in the air which just doesn't sit right and as soon as the boys enter into the demented and quite frankly terrifying religious cult, the film sidetracks and throws viewers down an unfamiliar and brutally brilliant path.

 The best way to describe the fundamentalist group in the picture is 'blinded' - I'm certain Smith's bible maniacs are based on the infamous Phelps family which are referenced in the picture. They are so blinded by their beliefs that they fail to realise their actions oppose them. Early on we see an angry mob holding horrific picket signs outside a young man's funeral because he was a homosexual. The theme of homosexuality is then defined and used as a tool to fuel the film, but much like it should, this theme causes audiences to be sickened by the religious believers and root for our hormonal heroes.

Still from 'Red State' (dir: Kevin Smith, 2011)
 As we already know, Smith is a storyteller and thus provides a bizarrely comedic if somewhat twisted screenplay to his unlikely film. The dialogue is well-structured and designed, particularly Michael Parks' monologue which consumes around 20 minutes of this 88 minute feature; nearly a quarter of it's running time. This is a risky move for any director and a large burden for any actor but Parks' warped priest Abin Cooper is such a magnetic character, the minutes fly by and viewers are engrossed in the religious jargon he utters.

 As 'Red State' enters it's third act, the horror elements start to fade away and out comes a relentless surge of action, and it's here where Smith's camera skills ignite. Whipping pan shots, bumping tracks and gritty aerials consume the screen enabling the bullets, blood and sweat to splash beautifully on the big screen. It's a surprise this picture was made for $4 million; that could have easily been spent on the final 20 minutes alone.

 This is a bleak film in tone, colour and design, and certainly disturbed in narrative and thematic terms, but like the majority of Smith's movies, there is a sort of elegance and beauty in amongst all the hate crime and mass murder. No matter what his name is attached to, it's evident that Smith loves cinema and consequently loves pleasing cinema-goers with his knowledge and passion that's so clearly expressed in his work; shame he doesn't feel the same way about myself and other critics.

 'Red State' features some strong performances, if perhaps underused - Melissa Leo is fantastic as the ghastly Sara; Abin's daughter who gains pleasure in punishing those who have "sinned against God". Leo is such a diverse performer and she sinks her teeth right into this nasty role. John Goodman is excellent as the police officer Joseph Keenan who is dragged to the church to uncover the hidden crimes. His performance is bold, frequently tough and filled with his charisma - it's just a shame he fails to get the screen time he deserves. The three boys are fine at playing the 'stereotypical teenage boy' and Kaylee DeFer is strong as Sara's daughter Dana, but the film's star is Parks. His role is sadistic yet charming; a religious Patrick Bateman if you will. He clearly has the most prominent role in the picture and he makes full use of his time in centre-stage.

 Despite some unfairly poor reviews and some personal omens many have with Smith, it's reassuring to know that there are still a few original screenplays out there and some filmmakers who are trying to better our modern commercial cinema and 'Red State' is an example of this. I doubt it will get a huge release but I wholeheartedly recommend you take a seat if it arrives at your local multiplex, just not on an Orange Wednesday - we don't want to upset Smith's 'paying customer' ethos do we?

The most original Horror of the year and Smith's best in a long time - 'Red State' is that good.

By Chris Haydon

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