Short Reviews: Red State (2011)

So remember how David Koresh, y’know, existed? And also Fred Phelps? Well Kevin Smith sure does and he has a mind-blowing, earth shattering revelation to deliver to his audiences: …they were not good men.

Red State tells the story of three teenage guys who go to visit a woman for sex, only to be drugged and held prisoner by a fanatical church that absolutely-definitely-isn’t-meant-to-be the Westboro Baptist Church. While they try and fail to escape, the ATF hones in on the heavily armed homestead and a siege occurs that’s definitely not inspired by the way a certain group of Branch Davidians were dealt with by the ATF and FBI.

Red State is an interesting movie, and I’d also say a fairly engrossing one, but it’s not a good movie. And that’s a shame because I really enjoy a lot of Kevin Smith’s work, and given the grace he put into Dogma while still creating an irreverent comedy, it’s a shame to see him throw subtlety completely out the window.

By his own admission, Red State is not meant to be a pleasant film. It’s been called a horror movie but the resulting film plays around with so many genres in its brief 88 minute run time that it’s hard to classify it at all; it’s not a horror movie, but it’s not really anything else either.

There’s a few elements that can be forgiven under the banner of “microbudget” and to the movie’s credit, it doesn’t look like a film that was made for only $4 million, but there’s also a lot that just doesn’t work at all. It feels like an unfinished movie, and it’s let down a lot by that.

For starters – choose a protagonist. There isn’t one. We’re introduced to the plot through Travis (Michael Angarano) as one of the three lads off to get laid, but they’re so characterless that they each seem identical and perfunctory. There’s not really a defining trait amongst them, and so we can’t get invested in them or their plight. Michael Parks is on usual form as Reverend Fred Phelps Pastor Abin Cooper, but the allusion to real life members of America’s most hated family are so blunt that it become’s a one-note performance. About the best here is John Goodman as the head of the ATF, although he’s just not given that much to do beside shouting orders outside the ranch.

I’m all for people taking shots at the WBC, but when it’s this unimaginative and unsubtle, it just seems like Kevin Smith took an angry rant and turned it into a basic screenplay, then threw in some scenes of characters doing stuff that’s not actually interesting to an audience (Cooper’s sermon seems like it will never end) thinking that he’s making a Tarantino film (although QT apparently loves Red State, so make of that what you will).

And there’s only so many times you can show characters being shot in the face before it becomes a running gag…


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