Monday, 12 September 2011


The new film from THAT Kevin Smith, eh?

The first I heard about Kevin Smith's first flick away from the comedy/drama strain was years ago on SModcast, when he pitched both Zack and Miri Make A Porno and Red State to Mirimax. Zack and Miri won out simply on its title (and ended up as a great romp, in my eyes), but Red State was denied, as it was considered, in Harvey Weinstein's words, too dark. My god, that was all I needed to know!

Cut to 4 years later. Zack and Miri under-performed. Cop Out was, well, a cop out. Smith drew headlines for not being able to fit in an airline seat. There was a lot of talk about him being a nuisance, over the hill and only sustaining his career through a loyal fanbase. A mirade of controversy surrounded his long awaited, independently financed horror, the biggest lambasting being the show he put on in Sundance by generating a massive buzz about the live auction of the films rights, then selling it to himself for $20. 

People found it all to be a media circus, an attempt to promote his new picture and the travelling shows in selected cities. Well, it is now available to everyone on Video on Demand. And Red State is a beast not to be messed with.

Original one sheet made by a member of the crew,
not a promo company. Very nice touch.

Following three high school boys who are kidnapped by extremist right-wing fundamental religious types after being lured in with the promise of sex, we witness the sadistic 'divine retribution' brought on in the name of God. The second half of the film is a Waco-like shootout, bringing us into the complex and into the action.

Muuuulllllleeeetttttt. And tall. But mainly, mullet.

A heavy film by any standards, Red State is reminiscent more of a Cohen brothers film than anything from the View Askewniverse, but this is certainly not a downfall. Smith finally spreads his directorial wings by breaking outside the typical story mode he has returned to time and time again in the past. Instead, we have several distinct groups of protagonists, which can be somewhat disconcerting, making it difficult to know who we are supposed to be following, but it also creates an unprecedented sense of unpredictability. We are not following a distinct hero or keeping an eye on our final girl. Anyone is fair game in this mayhem.

A substantial portion of screen time is given to a sermon by the preacher Abin Cooper (played with disdainful glee by Michael Parks). It can't be a good thing if it actually feels like you're in church, can it!? But throughout the extended scene, we are already made aware of one of our lead protagonists being kept in a cage on the alter, and as Cooper dispels the evils of our sinning world, we watch a human shaped mass wriggle under a sheet, tied to a cross. The almost painful amount of time given to the religious groups views builds an obscene amount of tension as we await the fate of our outsiders on the alter.

You may shit your pants. Michael Parks is awesome. This is normal.

John Goodman appears halfway through the film as the clock-punching federal agent Keenan, whom we follow trying to move in on the compound of the religious group, and then inevitably trying to control the situation. It's his and his teams choices between their orders and their morals that is possibly the biggest conflict ongoing outside the walls of the church's Saw-like deeds. The post-climax scenes are given an unusual amount of time in Red State, to clear up certain matters and wrap up everything, but if you are as involved with the film as I felt, you will revel in this debriefing.

Scenes draw on long in places, but never inappropriately. Again, it is very reminiscent of the Cohen brothers. It cannot be argued that the characters are complex and well drawn. The sign of a good horror film for me is its ability to put you in its characters shoes and force you to try do better, but not be able to come up with a workable alternative. The unpredictability of the plot and the fate of the characters leaves you second guessing any choices you might make, and therefore left to see what happens when all conceivable outcomes are tested.

Kevin Smith talking about Red State with Avid. A bit
long, but well worth a peep.

Director of photography Dave Klein has a big hand in most of Smith's films, typically bringing a friendly, accessible look to the pieces. Here, a similar style established in previous View Askew flicks is on show, but given the creative freedom of the horror genre, visual boundaries are pushed. Normally used as a framing device for dick jokes, the wide angle friendly frame is somewhat more sinister and unnerving. We follow our teenage protagonists, just waiting for the shit to hit the fan, and when it does, things get unforgiving. A brief scene has one of the teenagers running through the tight hallways of the complex and running into a dead end. The camera has never portrayed such a claustrophobic spacing as I see here.

The film is fantastically cast. The teenagers are horny and slightly obnoxious. The sheriff is drunken and demon-filled. The religious zealots are devoted in their ways, and those who are not are fully convincing in their reasoning not to be. The stars of this film are Michael Parks and John Goodman, and such heavyweights do nothing but impress. It's hard not to get excited when they occupy the frame. The film is very set in its views, knowing what point it is trying to get across, which it does very effectively. Even with such a heavy subject matter, Smith peppers in his trademark dirty humour, providing an unexpected giggle more than once throughout.

When I first heard about Red State all those years ago, my imagination went wild in what it would actually be like. I refrained from reading the leaked script or reading spoilers, instead, opting to wait for the final film. Now, released on Video on Demand, seemingly preparing for a theatrical release in Ireland (in the one sheet boasting the new film from That Kevin Smith is to be believed) with a DVD soon to follow (and hopefully a glorious array of special features. Smith has been getting poor on the extras recently!), Red State can be enjoyed in all its glory. It won't be for everyone. In fact, some people might hate it. But at the end of the day, and beyond any preoccupations with the controversy surrounding it, it is a horror film.

And it is a mighty fine one at that.