Saturday 10 September 2011

Review: Red State

Year: 2011
Director: Kevin Smith
Screenplay: Kevin Smith
Starring: John Goodman, Michael Parks, Melissa Leo

Synopsis is here:

I'm not sure about other film fans but I've wanted to see this movie since it was first announced (mid 2007?). The idea of a Kevin Smith Horror film appealed to me, but the idea of a Kevin Smith horror film based on the religious right of America? How could I not be there? 

However despite this a lot has happened in the world of Kevin Smith and unfortunately not a lot of it I would consider that positive. For you see for sometime now Mr Smith has really had it out for those who dislike his movies, namely the critics and bloggers who are invited to press screenings. Since Cop Out gaining some of the worse reviews of his career, Smith has gone all out with all sort of attacks on those who write about film. His Twitter now a base of operations with a large allegiance of fans who will blindly attack anyone who says otherwise about the man's actions. 

Seeing how Smith has acted, reacted and lashed out to those who oppose him has been a strange experience. It's obvious that Smith's films; no matter which ones they may be, are extremely close to him and so they should as they are his works (although I've never got why Cop Out got him the most worked up) and I do find Smith's ideas with distribution intriguing ones. However, Smith's way of going about things seems to be based more on personal grudges and getting people out of joint than anything else. To his his movies is to have a personal slight on the man himself and I know for a lot of people the thought of that is just not true. 

The issue is; now Smith has made things personal, bridges will burn and relationships will crumble. Smith's fan base will keep the man going until the day he dies, but what about his idea of releasing films made by other people under his methods of independent distribution? Smith wants to change the game but the game isn't ready to play ball yet and Smith's wish to personally call everyone out and insult those who have a differing opinion could affect the very people he's trying to bring up. 

All these thoughts, twitter rants and otherwise cloud the fact that Kevin Smith has made an "It's a nasty-ass $4mil horror flick with few (if any) redeeming characters." All the posturing, throwing the toys out of the pram and general unpleasantness should detract that Red State; part religious right horror, part action siege, is in my opinion, the strongest work he's done in years.

Smith, never really considered as a "visual" director has re-invented himself here, giving himself aesthetic that pushes the authenticity of the universe he's written. The drab and sparse art direction of the church, the dropped frame rate and use of handheld digital, the obtuse angles and awkward close ups all work here. There is a beauty in the ugliness of it all, reminiscent of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (The roadkill, the chainsaw dance during sunset) or The Wicker Man (the climax), that Smith manages to capture and he's done it by taking risks within himself. It's simple things like seeing corpses in a cold stock room while Michael Parks' demented preacher's whiskey smooth, middle American drawl sings psalms over the soundtrack or the offbeat editing which aids the uncomfortable vibe the film gives off.   

The discomfort is centralised by a titanic performance by one Michael Parks. Parks allows the Phelps-like Abin Cooper is both snake charmer and snake. The sweetness of his voice seems to never let you forget that there is sin behind those eyes. Parks' Charisma is what takes us through the film's middle act, a lengthy, character building monologue not only tells us all we need to know about the darker aspects of the church but also how easily Parks has charmed them. His words sound warm but the fear is there in harsh and Swift retribution which is quickly and silently dealt out without argument. While Parks is the charm, Melissa Leo is the hysteria. In a role which, while predicable and trite at times (See The Mist or The Omen for similar and better displays), never the less bounces off every well with Parks more "subtly" devious role. Rounding off a trio of solid performances is a straight edged display by one John Goodman, his face betrays the look of a man whose knowing, tired and still unsure about everything falling around him. 

Unsure is the most important word for Red State as it is a film that is constantly questioning the idea of trust and blind faith. Many characters place so much trust in those above them in command only for them to fall to a fate most heinous. Ideals of faith are questioned at all sides and as clear as this is a work of fiction, Once the bullets start flying there's the niggling feeling that this is where things can go. The shadows of Waco hover over the film and the mixture of the such themes and the films aesthetics help give off an unconventional and yet tenable feel to proceedings.

Smith's decision to create a film that deals with horror that's more closer to home is far more commendable idea than the spite of remakes and generic genre fare that the U.S (mostly mainstream) have had to contend with. It plays out almost like an American version of Frontiers but of course it's nowhere near as extreme (read gory). It's a shame that there are flaws that hang out for all to see. While I have no problem with the film flipping between genres or even tone (who knew that Smith could create action sequence as visceral as he does) the narrative that hangs everything together should be better, especially from a writer like Smith. Scenes often clunk together and don't feel as organic as they could. It's great having John Goodman in the film but do we really need him on the phone basically spouting off exposition so late in the game? I don't need lovable characters but Smith wish for no one as likeable takes away so much tension. To rack up the fear we need someone to latch on to truly. The teens we start off with a left behind as soon as we hit the compound, Cooper is a personification of evil and Goodman enters far too ate in the game.

We also have lots of secondary characters but why are they so silent? Why do many of the family members add nothing to the narrative in terms of character? With all the chaos that Smith gives us why is everything tied up so neatly? The script also features humour that doesn't have to be added? Do we really need the films last (off screen) line for instance? Maybe Smith wished to diffuse the situation slightly with a bit of lightness but I like the questions he asked and I would have liked the film even more if he didn't feel the need to answer everything.

Never the less, there's an edge to the movie that I really liked, something that keeps the attention and it's not Smith's wit this time round. It's the subject matter and the approach to proceedings. It's the coldness that hides behind that warm exterior of Cooper, it's the idea that the more "touched" members of society are stockpiling for a war they believe is coming and one mistake could set everything off. After watching Red State, I was considering re watching the film again. To squeeze even out of the juicy bits of the film. Smith's is retiring after Hit Somebody. Watching Red State makes me hope it's a sabbatical.