Red State – The Red Province Experience
Written & directed by Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Kevin Pollack, Jennifer Schwalbach, Kyle Gallner
The Gist: Set in Middle America, 3 teen boys searching for sex online receive an invitation from an older woman for a gang bang – she will do all three of them at the same time. Seems like an awkward scenario but the trio jump on the chance after minimal reservations. So sets the stage for an encounter that does not end the way the boys had hoped for after they are drugged and abducted by a fundamentalist group out to punish gays for their affront to God’s law. These boys unfortunately are the next victims; they aren’t gay but they are all willing to have sex with one woman at the same time. Blasphemy.
Tags: Red State has been tagged as a horror movie but in my opinion, this tag is not quite accurate and someone going in to it thinking it will be another Hostel type of torture porn flick will get something unexpected. Smith himself has called it a horror movie but did say during the introduction to the screening, that he is not a horror director and described the film as more unsettling than horror and I would agree.
Notable: A few things to note about the film. Kevin Smith has said that Red State is one of the final movies he is planning to make. Also, this is Smith’s movie in every way as he is distributing and marketing the flick practically on his own. He has taken the movie on tour to promote it and bring it to fans and audiences throughout the US and to 5 major Canadian cities and I believe he is also planning to take it to the UK. For a rather hefty ticket price -at the Vouge in Vancouver, BC, cheap seats were 50.00, orchestra seats plus a copy of the film on DVD out in October were 95.00- the audience gets an introduction to the film by Smith, the screening, followed by a 2 hours Q&A session with the man himself. For fans of his work and those looking for a different type of movie experiences, it is worth the price.
The Flick: Kevin Smith + quasi-horror + religious fanatics trying to eradicate the gay community in a small Middle American town+trigger happy ATF agents. This is not Clerks; there is no Jay and Silent Bob. There are minimal laughs and much death and head shaking at the actions of the fundamentalist group, the Cooper Clan – a family somewhat akin to the real life anti-gay fundamentalist family the Phelps of the Woodsboro Baptist Church. Smith embraces the comparison and has said that he appreciates the extra publicity that is being received because of the protests that the Woodsboro Church has conducted against the movie. The start of the film shows one of the boys, Travis played by Michael Angarano, delayed on his way to school due to a protest by the Coopers at the funeral of a gay teen who was murdered, wrapped in plastic and thrown in a dumpster. The movie propels forward telling how the boys come to be involved with the Coopers, revealing the church’s agenda and actions and culminating in an all out shootout between the militant Coopers and the ATF. Talk of sex, bloodshed, lots of gunfire and death. This movie is a departure from what fans of Smith’s work have come to expect but true fans will appreciate this shift and the film for what it is and how he has presented it. Kevin Smith is a smart and talented writer and he displays his range of writing skills and imagination by veering into a more serious storyline.
Kids, Coopers & Cops -The Cast: Smith has talked about the minimal budget and how grateful he is that he was able to hire the actors he did for the pay he was able to provide. The patriarch of the Cooper clan, Abin Cooper, is played fantastically by Michael Parks. He is powerful when giving sermons and promoting hate and murder to his family. Parks convincingly eludes the self- righteousness of the type of man of religion that he is portraying. Melissa Leo plays Sara, the cougar that lures the boys to her trailer in the middle of nowhere to “get to the devil’s business”. John Goodman plays ATF agent Joseph Keenan who is conflicted, briefly, between following orders and confronting the Coopers in a non-violent manner. Kevin Pollak makes an appearance as another ATF agent. The short scene between Goodman and Pollak is entertaining and offers a brief comic moment. Smith’s wife, Jennifer Schwalbach, appears as one of the devotees as does one of Smith’s podcast mates, Ralph Garmen. Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano and Nicholas Braun star as the 3 teens boys. Kerry Bishe adds to list of notable characters playing young Cheyenne, the pretty teenage granddaughter of Abin Cooper and the daughter of Sara. Her character is just as brainwashed as the adults, probably from having been raised in in the church all of her life. However, she is the only member of the Cooper clan who realizes that dying barricaded in their home as the ATF shoots the holy hell out of it, is not the best way out for her little sister and young cousins. Her tagline: Save the babies.
Critique Much: There is a lot more to the movie and a lot of unexpected events take place but repeating the events would take away from the shock and enjoyment that Smith has crafted. The movie twists and turns and jumps from character to character. This approach to the film has come under fire and several critics have panned the film saying it is disjointed and trying to jump genres by going from what starts out as a Hostel type situation to an armed and bloody standoff between religious nuts and ATF nuts (following their superiors’ orders but still nuts for that). I disagree with the critisim that the flick takes for Smith’s approach to telling the story by moving swiftly between characters and situations. People going into Red State thinking it is a horror movie may feel misled and probably will come away from it disappointed. I liked the flow of the story and I enjoyed the surprises as the standoff progressed and the action reached a breaking point. My only real issue with the film is near the end during the final confrontation between Goodman and Parks. What happens contradicts the events up to that point. Again, too many details would ruin the viewing experience.
Why would I recommend this movie? Because for one thing it shows a different side to Kevin Smith and his writing and film making; the acting is great as is the cast; the story flows quickly and the action keeps the story moving forward even if some of it is contradictory. This is a thoughtful, entertaining, disturbing film about people being corrupted, manipulated and killed due to religious principles and to fulfill a fanatic’s agenda of hate and murder – Abin Cooper or the ATF? It was a unique experience to see a movie with the writer and director only a couple of rows away and to have him talk with the audience afterwards. The movie is worth a watch but I would caution anyone who is going to see it to go in without preconceived notions of how it has been classified and reviewed by some critics. Open your mind, watch the film, than have an opinion – your own. Enjoy what Kevin Smith is offering as one of his final ventures into cinema.
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