Red State

Red State


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Editor's Note: This is a review of the cut of Red State that showed at Sundance 2011

We need to talk about Kevin - leastways, the Red State director would very much like us to. Even before the film had its first screening at Sundance this year, Smith was ensuring that he kicked enough critical and industry beehives to build its buzz - a technique that he has continued to employ throughout the past nine months.

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Before we get to its critique of extreme Christian fundamentalism - which I am surprised has caused much of a ripple, since the characters here are so full-out crazy that any more subtle satire is lost - we must first consider Smith's amazing ability to construct a hotbed of media debate before the film even screened. He did this by first making only a handful of tickets available to critics, although in the event just about everyone I know who wanted to see it at Sundance easily managed to.

Then there was the issue of the film's distribution. It was hotly rumoured that Smith would auction the rights to the highest bidder but, in the event, he announced at the premiere that he would self-distribute the film as a way of circumventing what he describes as "obscene" marketing costs. It is worth noting that this sort of posturing only goes so far, in that the film has been sold to several foreign distributors and will be making its way around the UK courtesy of E1 Entertainment. Still, the 'controversy' continued, with even a screening for UK critics earlier this year being cancelled at the last minute so Smith could add an introduction. I gather from @NigelFloyd that when it finally did screen to London critics this week the introduction praised British critics perspicacity.

So, after all of that, what of the film itself? To put it as bluntly as Smith makes his points in the movie, it is most certainly not worth all this fuss. Smith uses a sledgehammer to crack a nut as he explores fundamentalism and hypocrisy - both of the religious and State-run sort. As far as Smith seems to be concerned, everyone is as bad as each other, making it hard to care about anyone as the body count starts to rise. Billed increasingly as a horror movie, the shifting sands of its tone means it sits uneasily in any category, as Smith flirts with comedy, action and horror without carrying off any of them particularly convincingly.

The story sees teenagers Travis (Michael Angarano), Jarod (Kyle Gallner) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) heading out into the backwoods to get their rocks off with a woman who has promised, via the internet, to do all three of them at once. Little do they realise it is a deadly honeytrap set up by fundamentalist preacher (Michael C Parks), who is heaven-bent on eradicating gays from the world, even if he has to do it one by one and in the most excruciating way possible.

A chance accident en route to the liaison, however, sees the local sheriff (Steven Root) get involved, in a bid to cover up a secret of his own, and it isn't long before a SWAT team is sent to take control of Preacher Abin's church compound with deadly force, unaware of the boys being held within.

Smith, normally known for snappy dialogue, seems to have let his opportunity for a soapbox get to him as the movie is frequently slowed to a snail's pace by unwieldy and unecessary monologues. An early rant by the preacher - though Parks does his best - is particularly overplayed and where more capable horror directors would ratchet tension from the contrast of his fire and brimstone message given to beaming children with the sight of a boy cling-filmed to a cross, here the action feels curiously flat. Smith doesn't let us care enough about the kids and frequently seems willing to let the tension of scenes drain away just so that he can move on to his next polemic. The action, too, proves far too static to gain any sort of momentum, with the direction looking like something thrown together by someone with much less experience than Smith.

The acting is uniformly good - with Parks making the most of what is ultimately a thankless role, to create a sinister psychopath, and Leo giving suitably unsettling support. But even their presence and that of the always watchable John Goodman as an Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms officer called in to accentuate the film's Waco references, fail to compensate for Red State's other failings.

Too heavy-handed to make effective use of satire and too restrained and clumpy to adequately thrill genre fans, Red State feels underwhelming and overlong - such a shame after all that hype.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2011
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Red State packshot
A group of teens encounter extreme fundamentalism in Middle America.
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Director: Kevin Smith

Writer: Kevin Smith

Starring: Michael Parks, Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, John Goodman, Melissa Leo

Year: 2011

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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