Red State (2011) – Movie Review
In Red State, Kevin Smith takes a detour of genre and goes with “horror” although I do use that term very loosely and let’s face it, if you have seen Jersey Girl (2004), you know he has already directed a horror film. I am a huge fan of some of Kevin Smith’s work. I really like him as an actor and his cameo appearances in Die Hard 4 (2007) and 220.127.116.11 (2010) really made the films. As an actor, Smith is consistently good. Unfortunately, and I write this knowing fans everywhere may be outraged, that same consistency lacks in his film making. He has written and directed some extremely high quality films including Clerks. (1994), Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997) and Dogma (199). This is the positive. On the negative the aforementioned Jersey Girl; Clerks II (2006) was not a great film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008) was barely passable, not to mention films that just happened like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), and Cop Out (2010) which he directed but did not write. In saying all this, on balance I like his film making. His good movies are exceptionally good, which tips the balance in favour of him helming a film.
With this information firmly in hand I went to see Red State. I had not heard a great deal about this movie, what I did know is that it starred John Goodman, who I think is very underrated and one of my favourite character actors, and Michael Parks, a perennial Tarantino favourite. These three combining in what I thought was a horror film was enough to sell me.
I am sad to say I was alone in the theatre. There were no other takers for this film, which in itself surprised me. I think this may have had more to do with poor marketing than anything else. Why I say this is because this is not in any way a horror film. The posters, which red in bold red “KEVIN SMITHS FIRST HORROR FILM”, just plain lied. This is not too say Red State was not good, the two are mutually exclusive. I just do not want anyone reading this to go into the movies with any misconceptions about what to expect.
So if Red State is not a horror what is it? I am still trying to figure that one out. It is a commentary on organised religion, on Government corruption, on cover-ups, brutality in authority, leadership, choice and morality. It manages to commentate on all of these things, and yet it does not come across as preachy or pretentious. This is a hard thing to do and I think it is achieved in two ways. The first is the clever and intricate writing that is exhibited in the film, along with the way in which acts of sudden and extreme violence break the dialogical tension. These things all come down to the writing, directing and editing, all of which were done by Kevin Smith.
Red State focuses on a Branch Davidian style religious order, who may have gone a little over the top, and the police who eventually come in contact with then. It is extremism personified on both sides of the spectrum, government and religion. Red State breaks conventions about what a film like this should be, where there is character development, the audience becomes attached, place the characters in peril, draw the audience in and have the protagonist overcome great turmoil to come out on top. I am not saying this happens or does not, just to expect the unexpected and prepare to be challenged by unconventional cinema.
I think Red State is a top shelf film; it had me thinking for days and weeks after seeing it and even reflected while writing this on its construction and delivery. Definitely one to watch, a film added to Kevin Smith’s positive list.
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