Red State (2011)

Red State (2011) – Well this is sure as shit a change of pace from Mallrats, I can tell you… Really, there’s nothing unusal about a film-maker switching up styles (James Mangold seems to do it with every movie), but Kevin Smith has carved such a smart-ass niche for himself that it’s actually pretty shocking to see him bust out of it. Unlike his previous foul-mouthed comedies (for the record, my favorite Smith film remains Chasing Amy), Red State is a type of religious horror movie (albeit still pretty foul-mouthed). It’s not really straight-up horror. It’s more Kevin Smith riffing on horrific things from real-life, specifically the Westboro Baptist Church and the government’s actions at Waco. The result can be a bit jumbled but undeniably intriguing. Love this movie, hate it, or whatever in between, this movie will provoke some kind of reaction in you.

The movie starts with three kids names Travis (Michael Angarano), Jarod (Kyle Gallner), and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun), who go to meet a woman (Academy Award Winner Melissa Leo) from the internet for sex. Since this has been referred to as a horror movie you can guess that they don’t get laid and go home satisfied. Earlier we also get some background on Reverend Abin Cooper (Michael Parks, best known from Tarantino/Rodriguez joints like From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, Kill Bill, and Grindhouse), who has been picketing funerals and screaming how God hates a whole lot of people (especially gays). It’s not very difficult to guess how these two stories intertwine. Parks really shines as the kind of hateful but oddly charismatic son of a bitch who could organize a cult like this (though Cooper’s flock consists entirely of family).

Of course the movie doesn’t only demonize extremist evangelicals, but also takes on the ATF (with agents played by Kevin Pollack, Kevin Alejandro from True Blood, Marc Blucas from Buffy, and a standout John Goodman). Red State has a lot to say (homophobia is bad, religious hate is bad, the government killing people is bad, the Patriot Act is at best questionable) but it never quite gels into a coherent thesis. Then again I’m not sure this movie is one that needs a coherent thesis. I liked it. It wasn’t a great movie. The cast is pretty good, with Parks and Goodman being even better. The thing is the movie has this weird tonal shift from the conventional horror beginning (which plays a little like a less-gory more-religious version of Hostel) to the second half (which plays out more like a siege). I don’t know if the movie ever really reconciles that shift. The ending definitely provides narrative resolution but it leaves you with questions like “what the hell did that all mean?” Red State is a film that like Smith’s career as a whole is bound to be divisive (but for different reasons). It’s worth seeing if only so you know where you stand.

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