Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.
It feels a little strange reviewing Kevin Smith's latest venture into cinema on The Horror Hotel, as to classify his new work as Horror is something of a stretch. RED STATE is many things, much of them good, but other than its initial premise, (which is soon discarded), its really not a genre film in any real way. It has some violence, (though nothing too graphic), it has some semblance of torture, and it has a few decidedly creepy moments, but it feels far more like an action/thriller than a Horror. In fact, its a rather hard film to actually classify as falling into those labels either.
RED STATE is a strange mash-up of a number of great ideas. Its a part thriller, part jet black comedy, part social satire and part drama, yet it never feels comfortable in any of these guises. While it starts out as a close cousin of HOSTEL, (as three young dickheads go in search of sex and find far more than they bargained for), it soon emerges as a hostage crisis movie with political overtones. Throw some laughs into an otherwise deadly serious film, and you have something of a confused piece, yet a very enjoyable one should you approach it correctly. Let me explain...
The first thing any fan of Smith will notice is that this feels nothing like anything he's done before. He's exploring new ground as an artist here, and its very commendable to see him refuse to tread water in his career. And as an experiment in branching out, he shows that he has a keen instinct for what makes a serious, weighty film work, if not yet the experience to pull it off. The problem is that there are so many issues brought to light in RED STATE, that the light shone on each is dimmed by the sheer wealth of subject. Among other current worldly woes, we deal with 'The Patriot Act', (that wonderful bastion of acceptable 'Orwellian' fascism), domestic terrorism, (ditto), religious extremism, cult worship and its effects on the innocent and, hovering over all this, the dark shameful memory of the Waco tragedy.
Its a whole army of ideas that each deserve at the very least a film of their own. Try condensing all these huge issues into an 80+ minute movie, and what you get is a whole lot of not much, thematically Theres no time to explore the ideas fully, and so instead of focusing on one and running with it, we spread out too thin and lose most of the focus, sadly.
Another major flaw is that in skimming over these issues in relation to the characters in the film, its impossible to get a bead on what Smith is trying to say here. Is he condoning the Patriot Act? Anyone who knows his political standpoint will know the answer is 'HELL NO!', but based on the movie alone its hard to tell.
Is he asking us to look closer at the nefarious actions of our government, (Waco), or is he simply trying to make a fast paced action film? Is he taking the piss out those arseholes at the West Borough Baptist Church, (someone shoot those fucks already), or is he examining them? I honestly have no idea. I'm convinced we have a film that means well, but loses itself in the confusion of its intent.
If your planning to see RED STATE, it helps to enter into it with the attitude that your simply watching a work of entertainment, and one with no truly discernible message. I personally care deeply about the issues I mentioned, (I'm sure Smith does too), and found myself angered that they weren't given the time they merit. Many out there sadly wont give a rats ass about the dismantling of liberty or the government perpetrated massacre at Waco, and will be perfectly happy to hop on and enjoy the ride. For those of you who are actively aware of the topics, (and us Horror fans are smart fuckers, so that's a sizable number), I suggest you turn off your IQ at the door and view the film as a slightly subversive take on a hostage drama.
Now, vague socio-political nuances aside, RED STATE does have a lot to offer. Well, in truth, other than some fine directing and some very tense scenes, it has two things to offer. Yet these two things are reason enough to seek out this movie. These two things are called 'Micheal Parks' and 'John Goodman'....
Were I so inclined, I would want to marry John Goodman. The man can do no wrong in my world. His work as 'Walter' in THE BIG LEBOWSKI is among my favourite performances of all time. His work in MATINEE charms my soul each and every time I view it. His menacing turn in O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, steals the whole fucking show for me. Hell, I even watched ROSEANNE for the big guy. He's the fucking man. And as conflicted hostage negotiator, 'Joseph Keenan', Goodman is absolutely on fire. He's as riveting as he's ever been, and his stellar work here should finally afford him the recognition he deserves. His rage, fear, sense of conflict and deeply felt compassion pours from his every movement, and his every word. Josephs desperate dilemma is felt keenly by the viewer as Goodman takes a sparsely written character and makes him a fully believable and sympathetic soul. The man is brilliant.
Micheal Parks is no damn slouch either. You'll know his unique method from such classics as KILL BILL VOLUME 2, and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. He's ice cool in those movies. Exuding charm and sleaze in equal measure. In RED STATE, he's been giving a chance to truly shine, as the unhinged yet perversely compassionate cult leader, 'Abin Cooper'. His opening monologue is fucking riveting. Your drawn into this complex bastards world from the first line, and its as fascinating and as hypnotic as a performance gets. Its easy to understand why his followers are held captive under his spell. He's an enigmatic guy. This role, as with Goodman's, is vital in order for the movie to work. Its perfect casting on Smiths part, and its two mind blowing performances from two of the best we have.
There are also flashes of real genius here. The film rarely goes in the direction your expecting, and in one brilliant sequence, it shifts momentarily into something completely off the wall, ( two words : Trumpet Fanfare). Smith has all the pieces in place to recreate himself as an honest-to-god serious director with some very important things to say, and I hope he keeps going in this direction. It seems that in his first foray, he's found himself having too much to say. Its very hard to knock a guy for being too passionate, smart and insightful. He just has to learn to temper it. Breath man, breathe.
If you get the chance, see RED STATE. Its a fascinating film and as a tense drama its very effective. The lead performances are excellent, (the support are all fine too), and the twists and turns in plot will keep you glued to the brutal events unfolding, just don't expect a truly insightful look at any particular issue. You wont find it here. Kevin Smith's heart is in the right place and hopefully it will get people talking, but for me it needed to be more focused. Its a sure step in the right direction though, and worth catching.
7.5 Buddy Jesus' out of 10
Authors Note : If you want a truly horrific and honest film about the atrocities that took place in Waco, watch the documentary, Waco : The Rules of Engagement. If you feel the need to explore religious fanaticism and intolerance gone horribly, tragically wrong, (and the deep seated corruption within the legal system), check out another powerful documentary called Paradise Lost : The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and its sequel. These works are vital and should be seen by all, and shown at schools. The less said about the 'Patriot' act, the fucking better. Peace.