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Red State (2011)

October 28, 2011

5/10 Demon Days

You can take Silent Bob out of Jersey…

Red State is about three horny teenage boys who are lookin’ to have themselves a foursome. Given that you can find just about anything on the internet these days, they find a lonely lady online who just so happens to be looking for three young studs to give her the business, and so they drive up to her trailer in the back country to oblige her in ways only three horny teenagers can. Lo and behold, they get roofied before their flies are undone, they pass out on top of each other, and wake up soon after to find themselves hostages of a homicidal version of the Westboro Baptist Church. With their buzzes and libidos officially killed, the teens abandon their search for a devil’s foursome and try to find a way out before getting strapped to a crucifix and shot in the brain for Jesus.

As someone who watches a lot of horror movies and is continually saddened by all the unoriginal imitators and endless cheap scares I have to sift through each year because pickin’s are always slim, I was fa-reakin’ excited by the prospect of Red State. Folks, few things in this crazy world are more deeply horrifying and royally fucked up than the charming folks at the Westboro Baptist Church. The thing about exorcisms, vampires, zombies, and ghosts is that they’re all scary in their own right, but I don’t think anyone walked out of Paranormal Activity 3 last weekend and thought, “Shit, I hope that doesn’t happen to me.” Fred Phelps, on the other hand, has been happening, is continuing to happen, and there are people who treat him like a messiah.

That is scary stuff, and that’s why this is an absolutely brilliant idea and an absolutely brilliant title for a horror movie. Additionally, it was a smart move by Smith to label this killer cult the Five Points Church rather than focus the story on the Phelps crew by name, thereby depriving them of press they don’t deserve. Believe you me, those lunatics just love their press.

But let’s talk about Kevin Smith. If you went into this blind and happened to miss the opening credits, you’d be flat-out flabbergasted when his name showed up at the end. Not to sell him short or anything, but Smith is a pretty niche director. If his name’s attached, it’s probably set in Jersey, it’s probably a comedy, it’s probably crude as all hell, and it probably features a lot of the same people who were in the last Kevin Smith movie you saw. For the most part, I like Kevin Smith movies, and all those niche qualities of his as a film maker are the very reasons he’s a household name. But this is something else entirely for Smith…at least as a director.

It’s set in Middle America, it’s billed as a horror movie, and there’s not the slightest trace of Ben Affleck, Jason Mewes, or Jason Lee in sight. Awfully curious as to what spurred this complete 180 of a career move, but for a guy whose only real action credit to date is Cop Out, he deserves a whole lot of credit for what he does behind the camera. From a visual standpoint, this sucker is gritty, it’s constantly in-your-face, it’s intense and then some at points, and an inordinate amount of people get shot up by the time it’s all over. Unless IMDB is screwin’ with me, I don’t think that happens in a lot of Kevin Smith movies and it’s great to see him excel at something completely out of his comfort zone.

On top of that, he’s a got a solid cast to work with featuring some really big names and some smaller ones that I’d like to see more of. The star of the show is easily Michael Parks as the madman behind the Five Points Church, Abin Cooper, but John Goodman and Melissa Leo hold their own as usual.

So we’ve established that it doesn’t look like a Kevin Smith movie, but then there’s the script, and it totally sounds like a Kevin Smith movie. Now, of every script Smith has written, there are only two that stand head and shoulders above the rest: Chasing Amy and Dogma. The reason those two stood out for me is that they dug a lot deeper than most Smith scripts in terms of what they was trying to say, and as a result, it made the ridiculously raunchy humor seem that much more tolerable, even enjoyable. When I think of Clerks, all I think about is “snowballing” and how I’ll never get the appeal to that movie no matter how many times I see it. I know I’m in the minority on this one, but that shit is gross, it’s just not my thing, and that’s always been a point of contention with Smith’s movies.

Now, Red State does have some relatively poignant things to say about people like Fred Phelps and how they rank among the rest of us. But unfortunately, it rambles like a bastard whenever it tries to make those points and it’s hard to take it all seriously when everyone’s still making more guttermouthed jokes than ever. In one sense, I get it, dialogue is what Kevin Smith does and that’s to be expected. In another, I hate long-winded speeches and referring to someone’s junk as being the size of a “Coke can.” Whether it be in real life or make believe, listening to someone go on and on and on and on and on about the same goddamn thing just to get to a point they started on about ten minutes ago is on par with Chinese water torture. There’s a lot of that here, and while some of it’s good and I understand why it’s there, it overstays its welcome pretty early on and doesn’t get any easier on the ears.

And for something that’s been heavily touted as a horror movie, it’s pretty surprising how little horror there actually is. In its defense, this is not your typical horror movie and how you’ll feel about this aspect in the long run has a lot to do with what you think a horror movie is in the first place, but for me, it was more an action movie with horror roots than anything else. Like I said, there’s an inordinate amount of shooting to be had and just not enough horror or scares to back it all up. Oh, how I wish it had been the other way around.

So Red State‘s not much of a horror movie and it’s still way more of a Kevin Smith movie than you’d expect, but there really is something to be said for its phenomenal premise and surprisingly boss direction. Maybe if Smith had taken the plot in a different direction rather than stage an all-out warzone, maybe if he’d gone with a different ending, maybe if I was bigger fan of Smith’s sense of humor, this could have been a revelation instead of a minor disappointment. I’d love to see him do more stuff along these lines, but the more I think about this, the more I think Smith should have written himself out.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2011 4:45 pm

    This movie sounds pretty darn awful to me. And those Westboro Baptist people are so bizarre and horrifying, it doesn’t seem necessary to make them any scarier. I love your articulate, humorous writing. I’m glad I’m following you.

    • October 28, 2011 5:12 pm

      Haha. I totally get that. But there is something so incomprehensibly warped about those WBC whackjobs that they just seem ripe for exploitation as the real-life monsters they are. Too bad the final product ended feeling so confused, but yeah, you can probably skip this one. And thanks so much for the kind words! Much appreciated!

  2. October 28, 2011 9:41 pm

    I’m hoping to watch this film next week some time: I’ve been itching to give it a whirl since I saw the first trailer, but have never had the chance. Great write up Aiden, I think you’ve also touched on some salient points regarding Kevin Smith’s oft overused dialogue – is it just me, or does it seem that Smith likes to go the Tarantino route with his witticisms and post-modern dialogue and end up falling just a little flat?

    Still, can’t wait to give this a shot.

    • October 29, 2011 10:05 am

      Thanks, man! And I think you’re onto something with the Smith/Tarantino thing. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing so much as it is just two similar styles of writing. The difference for me is that every time Tarantino writes, he writes hard and with purpose, and it pays off in ways other writers can’t touch. Smith definitely accomplishes the same thing sometimes, but too often I feel like he’s either trying too hard or his writing just isn’t my thing. Anywho, you’re right, when Tarantino pushes the envelope, it tends to be brilliant; when Smith pushes the envelope, it more often than not falls flat.

      Hope you like this one more than I did!

  3. October 30, 2011 10:01 pm

    This looks mildly interesting to me I think I will check it out since its on netflix instant view.


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