Writer and Director Kevin Smith
Starring Michael Parks, John Goodman, Stephen Root, Kevin Pollak, Melissa Leo, Kerry Bishe, Michael Angarano, Nicholas Bran, Kyle Gallner
It takes a special talent, or possibly lack of it, to make a movie about religious gun loving nutcases, incompetent law enforcement, government coverups and horny teenagers. The big controversy around the film is not what’s actually in the movie but rather how it’s being distributed. Only time will tell if Smith is a idiot or genius. The movie premiered with a limited theatrical release followed by VOD, pay per view availability and finally a wide theatrical release. All of it being financed by the filmmaker who is spending next to nothing on advertising and traditional movie marketing. Since it is now widely available on pay per view and VOD we can at least see if the movie itself is worth all of the hub bub.
Personally I’m pulling for Kevin Smith, anything that breaks the stranglehold of Hollywood and opens the market up for filmmakers to get their product out in front of people and maybe have a shot of making a few bucks is fine by me. But that’s a topic for another day. Right now let’s talk about Red State the movie. In two words, it’s trash, hold on let me explain.
The movie starts with Travis (Michael Anagarano) being driven to school by his mother where on the way they get held up by a protest at a funeral. The Five Points Church, led by the charismatic Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) is protesting the funeral of a homosexual. When Travis arrives late to Civics class his excuse sets off a conversation about The Church and why they are able to get away with their disgusting demonstrations. The Church is so far out there that the neonazis have even disowned them. After class Travis meets up with his buddies Jarrod (Kyle Gallner) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun). The conversation turns to what any conversation among three red blooded teenage males turns to, sex. Jarrod reveals that he’s been chatting back and forth with a woman on the internet who wants to have sex with all three of them. The only hitch is that the woman lives in Cooper’s Dell, Five Points country. The three are not going to let that deter them. That night they head out for the night of their lives, but as you might expect not quite in the way they planned. To give away any more wouldn’t be fair but I’ll just say that it involves, ball gags, kalashnikovs, a trap door, head-shots, saran wrap, the ATF, a cattle prod, and orange jumpsuits, not quite in that order.
The film is broken up into three acts that all kind of blend from one to the next. First up you have the teenage coming of age gone horribly wrong story, the going horribly wrong part segues into creepy cult movie and then blends into a government fuckup and coverup movie. As you might expect from a Kevin Smith movie the dialog is great. Smith’s humor manages to poke through in several places and would have been welcome in more. Besides some of Cooper’s sermonizing going on a mite longer than it needed to, the pacing is great, the story, all three of them, fit together better than the plot in most exploitation flicks. The cinematography is wonderful, it’s got a consistent look and strong imagery. The direction is competent, but it never really builds any tension. I guess to build true tension you have to have a glimmer of hope, but somehow early in the film you figure out there is no hope in Cooper’s Dell.
I realize “trash” is a bit of a loaded word, but it’s supposed to be trash, its a exploitation movie. It hits all of the tropes of classic drive-in double feature. The religious nutcases make Fred Phelps and David Koresh look like Billy Graham. The local cops are completely incompetent, the ATF drones when forced to either do whats right or follow orders think about it and then follow orders, the teenage boys dominant character trait is that they are horny. All of these stereotypes are pushed so far that they become absurd enough causing you to question the validity of the entire film. At least that’s what I always got out of the best exploitation flicks. Kevin Smith gets this part right. He also got the casting right. In fact he nailed it. Not one individual in the whole movie looks out of place. Michael Parks and John Goodman are fantastic. Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner and Nicholas Braun are perfect as three horny teenagers. The Five Pointers and the ATF goons all look like they were born to play these parts.
For everything the film does right though it just never comes together. The three kids who should be the emotional center of the movie get shunted to the side so that the story can move on to the other elements. The characters that you are left with never generate enough sympathy for you to care about the inevitable outcome. The story tries to cover for this with an unexpected ending which for a moment nearly makes up for any shortcomings but in the end just sort of peters out. The film is flawed, it doesn’t quite deliver on what it promises, but give Smith credit for swinging for the fences.