Sunday, October 2, 2011
The film is a heavy handed and not too subtle attack on the fundamentalist Phelps family, ie, America's most hated family and just how religion can drive people to do some of the most heinous things in life. When talking the film up at the script stage, Smith spoke of how it was a horror movie. This is not really true of the final product; it may start as darkly tense genre picture that flirts with torture porn, but then it swiftly morphs 180 degrees into a full on 'Waco' style siege film. We begin with three horn dog teens looking to pop their cherry. Looking online they see an older lady willing to oblige them not very far from where they live. Somewhat excitedly they arrive at her door only to be drugged and kidnapped. Their captors are religious zealots, hell bent on violently ridding the world of homosexuals and other such 'blasphemers' that don't fit in with their view on what the Bible says about the world. So far, we are in standard horror movie territory, except we don't actually care about the three guys. In fact, the film doesn't really have any character you can cheer for; something I'm sure Smith fully intended. So as word swiftly gets out at what these evangelical terrorists are up to, the FBI intervene in a hail of gunfire and brimstone as the film suddenly switches gears. It's clear we're in a Kevin Smith film (the dialogue is frequently Smith-esque) but one very different to any we have seen before. The man must be applauded for trying something completely different to anything he has ever done before and for the first time fighting the urge for non stop fart gags and to allow himself to develop as a filmmaker. The film is very nicely shot throughout and has a pleasing gritty and grimy handheld aesthetic which chimes nicely with the various themes the film discusses. It must be said that Smith doesn't aspire to subtlety and lays out his views for all to see like a hammer to the head. All those years ago he explored religion in Dogma; here he full on attacks it. It is just a shame that the film doesn't more acutely handle this, as a better grasping could have yielded very impressive results. This seems like Smith chickened out ever so slightly and doesn't ever fully commit to the themes he puts forward by the climax. Sure, the typically charismatic Michael Parks delivers a lengthy sermon (thankfully cut down from the reported 20 minutes from the original Sundance cut) but a little more care and precision would have hammered home just what Smith - the writer wants to say. There are many that won't appreciate it. As stated earlier, it isn't the most tenuous experience you may have all year, but it is memorable. It has an almost Grindhousey feel to proceedings and have plenty of gore soaked action in between all the firefights. With this Smith surprised me. After Cop-Out I suspected the man had lost the passion. His View Askew-niverse had lost charm long ago and he seemed a man desperately searching for a voice he had lost. With this, it seems he has found it again. Hopefully by his next project (his mooted swansong Hit Somebody) he can continue to grow and confidently expand upon what he has done here. Basically, he needs to get out from the cushion of all his fans and show everyone he still knows how to make a film without relying on himself to sell it. As a proud independant filmmaker he will discover their are plenty more ways do so, than exhausting his celebrity.
A sometimes too bluntly delivered tone threatens to overtake proceedings and if Smith had shown just a bit more faith in his script then this could have been a glorious comeback. As it stands it is a successful change of direction and one in which for the most part is an interesting oddity. Not as bad as initial reviews might have pegged it, but not anything truly remarkable either.
"Red State" Trailer