Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Red State – Review

Red State – Review

Oct 10, 2012

reviewed by Danny
directed by Kevin Smith, 2011
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It is always interesting to me when directors from outside the genre try their hand at horror films.  Which of the horror conventions will they adhere to?  Which ones will they re-interpret?  Will they come to the genre with enough of an understanding of its motifs and themes to produce a film that fans of the genre will embrace?  When the carpetbagging director is Kevin Smith, who has exclusively directed increasingly mainstream, raunchy comedies, things are even more interesting.  Red State, Smith’s first genre film, unfortunately, is a mixed bag.  It does a decent job at mimicking a recently popular horror sub-genre, but that sub-genre is close to played out even in the hands of experienced directors.  Sadly, what Smith brings in terms of humor and subversive point of view does little to raise the film above the level the typical direct-to-video horror film.  On a more positive note, there does seem to be a respect for the genre and Smith at no point seems to be slumming.  He saves his mocking tone for the “Christian” group at the heart of his exploitation piece.

Early in the film, we get a glimpse of the church people that are at the heart of the horror of Red State.  Clearly modeled on Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, our protagonists see the church members protesting at the funeral of a gay teen, and we learn that most of the town sees the national attention they are bringing in as an embarassment.  As targets of satire and ridicule go, it’s hard to find more obvious and deserving ones than a group that regularly stages protests at the funerals of U.S. soldiers who have died serving their country.   When three teenage boys out for a night of debauchery fall into the hands of the church, we learn that insensitivity is far from their worst sin.

Targeting a fringe group as it does, Red State didn’t come off as nearly as anti-Christian as I expected it to be.  Most of the film’s anger is aimed directly at the Phelps stand-in, Pastor Abin Cooper, played by Michael Parks.  Parks is brilliant here, giving one of the best performances is a horror movie that I’ve seen in years.  The performance is key as it keeps the film from being a shotgun blast at religion and instead makes it a sniper shot to the head of those that would use a cocktail of religion and charisma to lead their followers astray.

Parks’s performance aside, the best thing that can be said about the rest of the film’s actors is no one really embarrasses themselves.  I like John Goodman, but he is given so little of interest to say or do in the film that he blends in to the background.  The three teens that get themselves captured by the cult at the beginning of the film are competent, but interchangeable.

The direction and photography of the film are also simply average.  It is Smith’s best shot film to date, but that isn’t saying much.  The writing is, as we should expect, well above that of the average B-grade horror film.  Parks is given some great dialogue and nearly everyone gets off a couple of good lines, and Smith fights off what must have been a strong urge to put “funny” lines in the character’s mouths.  There is humor here, but it is satirical, ironic, and surprisingly subtle.

I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan and, obviously, a horror enthusiast.  I wanted Red State to be great, but it is simply average for a decently-budgeted, independent horror film.  It isn’t the catastrophe some critics accused it of being after the early screenings, but there isn’t much in Red State to recommend it over any other B-grade horror romp.

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