Saturday, October 22, 2011

Review: "Red State" a Horror Movie That Does its Own Thing

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 85 (of 2011) by Leroy Douressaux

Red State (2011)
Running time: 88 minutes (1 hour, 28 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong violence/disturbing content, some sexual content including brief nudity, and pervasive language
PRODUCER: Jonathan Gordon

HORROR with elements of action and crime

Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun, Stephen Root, Matt Jones, Kerry Bishé, Kevin Alejandro, Ralph Gorman, James Parks, and Kevin Pollack

Red State is a 2011 horror film from director Kevin Smith (Clerks.) Smith chose not to distribute the film in the usual manner through theatres. Instead, he took Red State on tour showing it before small audiences. Perhaps, this unusual manner of exhibiting a film reflects that this is a highly unusual horror movie.

How unusual is it? Well, there are things that happen in this movie that will be familiar to audiences, but not familiar as something seen in the typical horror movie. This will leave you shocked, scratching your head, put-off, and/or entertained. Still, Red State is, for me, one of the most enjoyable film experiences I’ve had this year. I can’t get some of this movie out of my mind.

Three high school boys: Travis (Michael Angarano), Jared (Kyle Gallner), and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) are horny enough to screw anything, so when they get an online offer for some nasty sex, they travel to woodsy Cooper’s Dell and into big trouble. Meanwhile, gay-, liberal-, Jew-, brown people-hating pastor, Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), and the parishioners of his Five Points Trinity Church get ready to rock with Special Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) and the ATF.

Red State has heavy political overtones, heavier religious overtones, and heaviest of all, social and cultural overtones. The film seems to fold elements of the horror movie, Hostel, into the real life events of the Waco siege. This siege occurred in 1993 and was a standoff outside Waco, Texas between the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and a religious sect, the Branch Davidian, which ended with the death of 76 people. In fact, Abin Cooper and his flock also bear a resemblance to controversial Pastor Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Ultimately, writer/director Kevin Smith seems to be saying “a pox on both your houses” to both the church and state entities in this movie.

Red State is a horror movie because of the suspense, the abduction sequence, and the torture, and also because of the general brutal violence and mayhem. I don’t want to give away too much, but the events of the film and the way the characters act – both onscreen and off – amount to a horror show and would be considered horrifying to most people. What I like most about this film is that it is simply different and is an audacious and bold effort by a filmmaker, Kevin Smith, who has largely underutilized his talents or been underutilized. Red State is an example of untapped potential. Perhaps because of budget restraints, Smith does not take a number of subplots and character relationships far past the point of introducing them. Fully developed, they could have transformed this already good film and made it even better.

Finally, I should mention that there are a number of strong performances in Red State, with Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, and John Goodman as the standouts. Parks and Leo at least deserve consideration for Oscar nominations for their performances here. Leo just won a best supporting actress Oscar (for The Fighter), but her turn here as the religious zealot/nut who is also a fiercely loving mom could wrestle your imagination to the floor and pin it. Parks is a revelation as Abin Cooper, a fanatic with rock-solid, unshakeable faith; Parks makes you believe that this guy is real and for real. There are a number of reasons to see this. Believe it or not, the acting may be the best reason to see Red State.

7 of 10

Saturday, October 22, 2011


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