Mass hysteria – Red State review

Red State – Starring Michael Parks, John Goodman and Melissa Leo. Directed by Kevin Smith. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

The posters declare Red State an “unlikely film from that Kevin Smith”, although a better tagline is surely “everything you imagined a Kevin Smith horror film would be”. Sure, the flick may catch purists off guard, if only because it features more violent deaths than seen in all of Smith’s previous features combined (not including the repeated murder of comedy in Cop Out – OK, the one and only Cop Out gag is out of my system). There are punctuations of violence and extreme tonal shifts, but ultimately, this still feels as if it’s part of the auteur’s oeuvre. Red State is a Kevin Smith joint; perhaps his first to feel as much since Clerks 2. He should consider it a compliment. When we rail against Cop Out, it’s not because we don’t like Kevin Smith. It’s because we missed Kevin Smith.

Describing the plot may be redundant, as it’s merely a series of red herrings leading to one giant “revelation” (that revelation: fundamentalists be trippin’). Still, for tradition’s sake: the action begins when three horny teens (Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner and Nicholas Braun) travel to Cooper’s Dell – the home of the ultra-right-wing Five Points Church – to gangbang a woman who caught their eye online. The woman, Sarah (Melissa Leo), invites them into her trailer, gets them drunk, and tells them to strip down before getting down to business. The trio fails to cotton on to the creepy, Hostellike nature of her requests, and they inevitably pass out. They wake up trapped in the aforementioned church, where demented Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) is plotting to sacrifice the boys in front of the congregation for their sinful ways. Can the cavalry of government agents – led by John Goodman’s Agent Keenan – save the boys, the day and … the world? Let’s just say the Waco allusions come thick and fast, so feel free to lower your expectations of a happy ending and settle in for a bleak (and unsubtle) time.

The script is verbose to a fault, but filled with wonderfully unique Kevisms. Hidden beneath all the expected filthy language and sex talk is a thoughtful tale of faith. Unfortunately, it’s almost undone by endless exposition. Whenever the flick picks up any steam, Smith inserts a long-winded sequence of characters explaining things to one another, seemingly intended to deflate any tension (not ease the tension; deflate it). Thankfully, he’s assembled a great cast, and – as he often does – drawn from them some stellar performances (particularly in Parks, who absolutely goes for it and never looks back). And although the plot “twists” somewhat derail the narrative and send the picture into a tailspin, credit must go to Smith for providing plenty of surprises. Red State is not so much scary as it is shocking, but shocking it most definitely is.

Smith may have had a falling out with the critic community in recent years, and he may have made his mind up about no longer wanting to write and direct films in the near future, but Red State is a reminder of what a unique talent he is, and what a shame it would be to lose him forever. Much like Quentin Tarantino, Aaron Sorkin, Woody Allen, Billy Wilder and Diablo Cody (there are some divisive personalities in that list too), his voice is immediately recognisable. So too is his understanding of character. Randal and Dante and Banky and Jay and even his Silent Bob may all talk way too much, but they are wonderfully realised characters who, on occasion, deliver beautiful human truths (see Holden’s admission of love to Alyssa in Chasing Amy for an example of the good and bad in a single scene). His films are far from perfect, but his personal touch is a treasure.

3.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Red State opens in Australian cinemas October 13, 2011.

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