The Establishing Shot: Red State Review

Friday, September 30, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

Red StateExcuse the brevity of this piece but this is the third time I’ve committed my thoughts to paper on Kevin Smith's Red State. As I have previously written, Kevin Smith’s latest film Red State is a radical departure from his usual fare. I struggled a bit watching it, but feel that Red State is as bold, brilliant and important film as Easy Rider - as well as marks Kevin Smith’s returns to truly independent maverick film making. It should be noted I struggled watching Easy Rider the first couple of times as well.

Some context in case you think I'm another Kevin Smith fanboy- look I probably liked Clerks a little more than the next guy, sure it was entertaining and edgy. But I mainly liked it because a talented guy, who made a film after hours in the shop he worked in, actually got it together and not only made a film but made a great film right out the gate. I Kind of liked Mallrats, it was a lot of fun, but I found it very mid America, granted it has been years since I’ve seen it and I’m sure I enjoyed it a lot more than it sounds. However when it comes to Chasing Amy and I know it’s a little too long and it’s supposed to be bigger than a guy chasing an unattainable girl but for me it is one of the greatest love stories ever told.

I kind of went off Kevin Smith after that, and every now and then when I catch one of his films on TV I’ll watch a little have a laugh at a funny moment, but in the back of mind there is a little bit of - man what happened to that guy?

In preparation for the release of Red State I managed to catch what I assume was the last ¾’s of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and had a chuckle as it is entertaining in that nostalgic Hollywood golden era kind of way. A way that is only appreciated long after it is over. I also managed to watch Cop Out again, and actually enjoyed it a lot more than my first viewing.

Red State starts off in classic Kevin Smith view askew mode – a lo-fi, low angle shot of a car heading along a road, that combined with the introduction of a mother and son chat - I thought this isn't too different from vintage Smith. But this slowly fades away as we begin to understand the world of Red State.

Red State is a radical departure from Kevin Smith’s usual fare in more ways than one. I’m not overly familiar with American politics but the title alludes to a Republican or Conservative majority state, politics and religion plays a major role in the film not just the dual purpose title. In Red State a conservative religious group have are tired of the ills of “free living” have decided to do something about it, rather than just talk.

And this is the world that our 3 young heroes become embroiled in as the focus of the film shifts from high school high jinks to an increasingly tension fraught situation. The spolier’ish trailer and film synopsis kind of give away the direction it goes in. Which is a bit of a shame as there are less surprises going in if you know what to expect.
From cult writer/director KEVIN SMITH (Clerks; Dogma) comes his tenth film, the hotly anticipated RED STATE, a unique, intense thriller hell bent on leaving audiences feeling uncomfortable, tense and never knowing what’s going to happen next.
In Middle America, three horny teenagers travel to Cooper’s Dell after responding to an older woman’s online invitation for sex. However, their schoolboy fantasy turns sinister as Christian extremists led by the twisted preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) holds them captive in his compound known as the Five Points Church. As the Pastor and his congregation embark on a reign of terror forcing the boys to witness executions before being prepared for their own death, they have to contend with the arrival of Federal Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) and his team who are armed, dangerous and ready to bring them down.
Stylish, compelling and visually exhilarating, RED STATE is unlike anything Kevin Smith has ever made before.

Red State Trailer

I’m not going to lie, in terms of entertainment Red State was a bit of a struggle for me to watch as Kevin Smith tries to hinge a powerful message around an almost clichéd story which he does however bring it to life by constantly surprising and breaking the accepted rules of film.

Red State is well thought out and has moments of cinematic greatness. But these are diminished by the bouts of takiness. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for intelligent rhetoric and delivery of dialogue - a corner stone of Kevin Smith's films getting dialogue delivered with gravitas - no matter the content. But too much of the film hinges on buying into the long speeches which had the opposite effect for me - and yes I do understand that Kevin Smith is making a point with this technique, but it did lower the entertainment value.

Red State twists its way through moments of hilarity as our 3 young heroes set out to moments of chilling terror when they come to face to face with their adversaries. The darkest bits do feel a little like they follow a similar track to many teenagers vs. brutal, heartless, torture porn enemies (as seen in the likes of Hostel, etc.) But Kevin Smith cleverly shifts the focus of the terror from the cruel and physical actions of the cult to something darker and more scary - their belief - that what they are doing is somehow righteous, or normal. Which is astoundingly clever as it is genuinely more frustrating and terrifying than physical horror.

Their is a particularly chilling moment when you are shown the faces and eyes of the cult members as they are asked for help and you see their complete obliviousness to anything other than their own beliefs. Creepy as hell. We are constantly jerked around twists as we head to an ending that can only be described as pure Kevin Smith leaving no doubt that Kevin Smith should be directing the adaptation of Garth EnnisPreacher.

Red State isn’t easy watching and politics in films scares me a lot. So why do I rate it as important as the classic Easy Rider? Well for one thing many may view Red State’s message as anti - establishment or anti freedom of speech or anti religion or anti the accepted way of life. Much in the same way that Easy Rider was viewed by many on its release and over time gathered more and more appreciation.

Secondly many genre films are retro fitted with some sort of political or social statement as an explanation (Day OF the Dead, A Serbian Film) for there existence. Kevin Smith set out to say something with Red State and that message is very clearly delivered within the framework of a film.

Most importantly and only after looking into why would Kevin Smith, a seasoned filmmaker who could almost assuredly get finance for any mainstream project he wanted to make - continue an up hill struggle to get Red State made? Kevin Smith’s position on religion is probably no secret if you have seen any of his previous films but with Red State he had something to say about a system that effects his family and himself.As well as wanted to make a film that he wanted to make not a film that was made to please studios or his fans.

I have not addressed the question of films being sugar coated political /religious propaganda systems for palatable delivery. And I’m guessing will be debated infinitum. But in the meantime I salute Kevin Smith for making a film that he knows may not be appreciated by everyone but a film he believes in, which surely must be worth more than a 1000, well polished mediocre films made for box office. I also can’t help but admire that he made this film in the true sense of independent filmmaking and is again flying the maverick flag. I’m glad to see Kevin Smith take more challenging material and it looks promising for his future films.

If you like your films challenging with a streak of dark satire. Red State is the film for you.

Red State is in UK cinemas from today - Friday 30 September 2011

Red State
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.

Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Stars: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo and John Goodman