Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Rated R for strong violence/disturbing content, some sexual content including brief nudity, and pervasive language
A movie that may spell the number one reason as to why people from the West Coast are so uneasy about traveling into Middle America (well, if you don’t count that whole KKK thing). Steeped in controversy in all aspects, from the title, to the subject matter, to the manner in which it is now being distributed, Kevin Smith’s (Clerks, Dogma) new (and most ambitious) film “Red State” (which he wrote as well as directed) is not only overly (in your face) provocative and very “of the times”, but also contains one of the most ballsy premises to come out of mainstream Hollywood in years. Advertised as a horror film, “Red State’ is a movie that bases its scares not off of monsters jumping out of closets, but on the theory of a small group of inmates (religious nut-jobs) running the asylum. Delving into a storyline which criticizes evangelical religious extremists, whilst at the same time questioning the unsettling abundance of power that the government has, many are bound to be completely turned off by “Red State” even before viewing it. Is this a movie that says all religion is bad? Is this a movie that says the United States Government is just as backwards as the “craziest” zealot originations in the world….well yes and no. One thing is for sure though; if you are used to Kevin Smith films that are drenched in foul language, where the characters are all half-wits spouting mostly intellectual sounding (but juvenile) diatribes while attempting to figure out their mundane, yet relatively safe lives, then “Red State” may not be for you. Even though there are hints of Smith’s signature raunchy sense of humor here, “Red State” is (for the most part) extremely DARK; yet I am still recommending it, simply because it shows a more serious, radical and, at times, more interesting side to Smith that is sure to intrigue and repulse at the same time.
The storyline follows a group of oversexed teens (the kind that Smith is infamous for writing into his films) in Middle America, that encounter a family of fundamentalist Christians in the woods. But these are not your ordinary Christians; by day picketing soldiers funerals while spewing Homosexual slurs and by night sacrificing “sinners” to satisfy their own extremist beliefs. You got it, these are a gun wielding version of the religious extremist/fire and brimstone Christian group known as the Westboro Baptist Church, lead by Pastor Fred Phelps. You have probably seen Westboro picketing Military funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq on CNN, spewing hate-filled “God-talk”, which condemns seemingly everyone who doesn’t follow their version of Christianity to a lifetime in Hell. Smith’s satirical portrayal of this group is actually what works about this film because it is so spot-on that it becomes strangely unsettling to watch. When listening to Michael Park (Kill Bill: Vol.1), who plays Abin Cooper, the Phelp-like character in the film, spew his hate filled lines with such venom and power, it definitely stands out as one of the most horrifically compelling performances of the year. In short, the scenes where Park is simply preaching are so grotesque in and of themselves, that these simple (yet compelling) scenes are what will inevitably classify this film as horror. So when, about half way through the film, the police get involved, and the story becomes saturated with more and more characters and storylines, the movie beings to fall apart. So much so, that by the end “Red State” all but loses its luster, as it slowly slips into an awkwardly uninventive action Grindhouse.
In his promotional snippets via You Tube, Smith proclaims that the reason he even went forward with an idea that was sure to come under strong criticism, was due to the fact that he would soon be “retiring from the film industry” and simply “doesn’t care anymore”. And maybe I am in the minority thinking that Smith’s reasoning is even more of a compelling reason to watch “Red State. Even if you aren’t a hardcore fan of Smith’s work, this film is like watching someone go all in in high stakes Poker, this risky action makes the action that much more intriguing to watch. And for that reason I believe that, even though this isn’t by far Smith’s best work, “Red State” is sure to (at the very least) gather a cult following. And certainly this must have been Smith intention to allow himself (as a filmmaker) the chance to come full-circle, being that “Clerks” (arguably his biggest hit) has come to be known as a cult classic in its own right.
Final Thought: All an all “Red State” says more about Smith’s “I don’t care anymore”/ middle finger in the air attitude toward the big name Hollywood production companies, than his attitude towards religion or the United States government, but “Red State” does hold its own as an interesting and gutsy horror satire. This is definitely Smith’s take on the modern horror film as only he can do it. I may be touting this film as being more interesting than a majority of the United States may find it, solely on the bases that I am personally intrigued by the lunacy (and satirical nature) of Rev. Fred Phelps-like subject matter. In saying that, the subject matter may be so strong that it may become easy to forget how great of a writer and overall filmmaker Smith is (“Cop Out” withstanding). “Red State” is not for everybody of course and is somewhat formulaic near the end, but is well written and directed and brought together by a few compelling performances. It is definitely worth checking out if the synopsis should arouse your curiosity.