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Red State
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Red State – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Deep in the heart of America’s bible belt, three teenagers accept the offer of a foursome from a woman one of them, Jarod (Kyle Gallner) has met online.
They turn up at her remote caravan, accept her beer to loosen them up for the excitement to follow – and the next thing they know, Jarod is chained up in a cage, while Travis (Michael Angarano) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) are tied together in a basement.
Hearing hateful preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) spouting words of hatred to his congregation about a gay man they’d lured to his church, the teens realise that they’ve been kidnapped by the fundamentalist Christian sect known as the Five Points Church.
When the victim is brutally executed, Jarod, Travis and Billy-Ray’s shock and confusion turns to panic. Are they next to be punished for their impure thoughts by this murderous excuse for a religious congregation?
When a local Sheriff’s deputy (Matt L Jones) becomes suspicious of the activity at Cooper’s compound, he turns up to check that nothing is awry but his concerns are not met in the way a real God might have intended.
There’s certainly no help coming from the Sheriff himself (Stephen Root) because Cooper knows a thing or two about his personal life that he’d rather keep from the public.
The only hope of rescue lies with the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), who arrives with full SWAT-team back-up.
But a heavily armed, militant sect, that believes death will only bring its members closer to God, is a formidable foe for local authorities that are keen to impress their federal bosses, when the wider politics become more important to them than any innocent victims who might be trapped inside.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Known for his slacker comedies, such as Clerks, Mallrats and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Kevin Smith is well outside his usual comfort zone, but with little directorial success for the best part of the last decade, perhaps he’s right to have a go at something else.
But to go from that to one of the most unremittingly violent siege films the big screen has ever seen is a surprising career move for the man who – of late – has made more column inches with his antics off-screen than behind the camera.
It’s unquestionably a shocking and powerful thriller, with many interesting observations and comments to make about the inner workings of both cults and the authorities – but fundamentalist religious cults and corrupt and incompetent government agencies are both fairly obvious targets for criticism and oft-seen on screen. As such, many of the undoubtedly interesting and chilling events don’t feel especially fresh or original.
Branding it a horror also seems to be a bit of a misnomer. Setting Heat in a church doesn’t make it a horror, because some of the characters believe in the supernatural. Psychological thriller, perhaps – but calling it a horror just feels like a cynical attempt to reach a genre audience. But it’s the wrong audience.
A number of scenes – such as Michael Parks’ opening church sermon and a closing debrief of the surviving authorities – could have and should have been trimmed. Smith doesn’t have the edge of Tarantino and Parks can’t match the subtle menace of Christophe Waltz’s Oscar-winning turn in the opening scene of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
The storyline involving Stephen Root – always a joy to watch – felt a little latched on and could have been dispensed with entirely.
The film was tense and exciting – and it was fascinating to witness the shocking fundamentalist view of the world – as it was to see the twisted and shifting morals of those trying to control it.
Even coming in at under an hour and a half, Red State feels like it’s been stretched to feature-length, without enough original comment or observation to justify its running time.
Perhaps the only fresh element of the film is a rather surreally incongruous denouement, that brings the siege to an unbelievable end.
If Smith was trying to show us he can do more than slacker comedy, he’s succeeded. But it’s not entirely clear that he’s achieved a piece of cinema that was worth breaking with conventions for. What’s next? George A Romero making a romantic comedy?
With some judicious editing, Smith could have delivered a taut and fraught short.

Opens nationwide 30th September 2011

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