“ Genre: Action & Adventure / Suitable for 18 years and over / Director: Kevin Smith / Actors: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Ralph Garman ... / DVD released 2012-01-23 at Entertainment One / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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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, especially with the humour seemingly 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.
Following three horny teens Travis (Michael Angarano), Jared (Kyle Gallner) and Billy Ray (Nicholas 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 (Michael 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.
"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" (1997) 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, while Smith has taken up duties 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 seen 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 (John 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 apocalypse all putting in an appearance.
What is especially interesting here 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!
The Phelps family and their Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, United States do get hounded a lot for their extreme views against homosexuality, picketing at fallen soldiers' funerals, holding up signs such as "Thank God for 9/11," "God Hates Fags," and "Thank God for AIDS." These people have rightfully been branded as a hate group, but director Kevin Smith takes religious fanaticism to a whole new level; he adds guns. Lots of guns. His Cooper family in his latest, "Red State," is not a cult to be messed with. The Phelps family hasn't killed anyone (not yet anyway) nor have they imprisoned innocent youngsters. For the Coopers, anything goes. Anyone speaking out against God or the Holy Bible means an immediate death sentence by cling film. You literally get wrapped around a cross with the nasty plastic material and are suffocated slowly. Speaking of the Holy Bible, these people are so extreme that they have dug a hole in the scripture where they hide a pistol.
All the three young teenage boys Travis (Michael Angarano), Jared (Kyle Gallner), and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) wanted to do was to get laid. There is a remarkable older woman online who says she will take on all of them or none of them. So naturally, these curious boys take a brief road-trip and meet this woman who seems too willing. Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo) looks scary, lives in a trailer, and insists the boys drink beer ("I don't let no man in me that don't have two beers in him"). Alarm bells should have gone off right there and then, but as the boys quickly down their bottles of drugged beer, they pass out, and wake up trapped inside the Five Points Church, a place of worship led by the insane Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) as he preaches violence and hate.
The first half or so is more concerned with what goes on inside the church. The boys try to escape, although luck is not on their side as the congregation of fanatics has the home advantage. It's a tense, terrifying ordeal to sit through, as Parks delivers his many lengthy lines of dialogue with such a frightening tone and conviction. He makes an excellent central villain, playing someone so caught up and convinced in his own extreme, disturbing beliefs that he would do anything to please his God by ridding the world of what he considers unholy and filthy. Even killing can be self-justified, as he doesn't hesitate for a second whilst shooting at innocent victims. This monstrous nature is so calmly captured by Parks, whose consistently chilling performance here is a gripping one.
More action takes place in the second half, when the local authorities interfere. Everything escalates quickly, and turns into a long fire-fight of many bloody, gruesome deaths. Led by Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), there is an even darker turn of events when the police are given an order to kill everyone inside. This means women, children and hostages, as the higher-ups do not wish to deal with any controversies with surviving witnesses. Suddenly the tone has shifted from carefully mounted tension-filled thriller to full-blown action, a change that is not only welcome, but is handled stylishly by Kevin Smith (director). The rapid edits, hand-shaking cinematography add more chaos to the endless hail of bullets, as does the body count that rises by the second.
The film doesn't seem to take sides, and it never quite decides on who the main characters are. Is it the three young hostages we started with? Is the agent and his team leading the assault? Even the church members could be the ones we should focus on. Everyone is given an equal spread of screen time which, despite the short running time of the film, gives the important people enough space to develop and it's the dynamic inside the church that really grabs the audience's attention. They seem to be an extended family, and focus mainly on Sarah (Abin's daughter), her husband and their oldest daughter. The daughter has most doubts, something that is not tolerated in a strict religious house such as this one. She is more concerned about letting the innocent women and children escape. But admit of defeat is not an option. If they die, they are more than sure that they will go to heaven to join Jesus Christ. There is nothing scarier than a group of people who aren't afraid to die, and the Coopers are exactly that. Leo, who is always excellent as the strong, unstable matriarchal characters (as seen in "The Fighter" and "Frozen River") once again shows she is one of the greatest character actresses around by playing her Sarah with much memorable ferocity.
Smith, who is more famous for his contributions as a crass comedy director, doesn't make it obvious that he is in fact slightly out of his comfort zone. His pacing is confident, and the low-budget action is effortlessly convincing. His simplicity that hardly ever requires the special effects department, is a technique that is in dire need in Hollywood where every action movie crosses the budget of 100 million ("Red State"'s production cost 4 million), and Smith is more than capable of making noise and spilling blood with the limited financial backing. By investing time into his characters, guns and action are secondary. There are conflicts both in and out of the church, which are portrayed to fascinating depth, with unpredictable bloodshed that takes place.
With a rushed ending, the film comes to a close wrapping up all the strands in one clean swoop. It is a little silly, and sloppy. But the many contemporary topics this addresses and how fearlessly it combines so many genres (even the ridiculously sudden deaths of some valued members in the cast give rise to darkly comic moments) turns out to be one heck of a rollercoaster ride you cannot afford to miss. Smith's infamous rant and erratic behaviour in the public have prevented this film from going public with a proper distributor, which is a shame, since this is one of the director's best films to date, following his disappointing, patchy, comedy entries. To those who doubted Smith as a director, yes he does appear to have a big mouth that spews inappropriate words in all the wrong places, but his skills and direction are alive and well, and "Red State" certainly proves that.
**FILM ONLY REVIEW**
Kevin Smith, director of Jersey-based comedies such as Mall-rats, Chasing Amy and Clerks, has stepped out of his comfort zone with the religious horror movie, Red State. Considering that the film is Smith's first foray outside of comedy, it is quite effective although it doesn't manage to hold the tension and fear in the same way other traditional horror directors have been able to.
Abin Cooper (played by Michael Parks) is a over-zealous religious leader, whose church regularly protest at dead homosexuals' funerals, to the disgust of the local townspeople - although what people don't realise is that these same protesters are the ones responsible for putting these boys in the grave. After answering a Craigslist ad for non-strings group sex, three young teens get drawn into a dangerous trap and find themselves the focus of a violent sermon, delivered by Cooper.
This film changes tone several times throughout its running time, never pausing for breath. Unfortunately, it doesn't dwell in the 'horror' tone for long enough, which makes it feel out of place with other films in the genre. I enjoyed the twists and turns, with certain characters fates being not what we expect, and the good guys being as morally dubious as the bad guys.
This was a successful change in direction for Smith, into a more action orientated style of movie, but I would say that as a horror, it isn't quite as successful.