Review: Red State

Warning: The following review contains SPOILERS

I like Kevin Smith.  As a director, Smith has directed fantastic comedies like Clerks, Mallrats and my personal favorite, Dogma.  Kevin Smith is also a fantastic storyteller, and does amazing Q&A sessions with fans, three have been released on DVD and Too Fat for 40 is the newest (and now available on Instant Watch). Smith also has a podcasting empire at www.smodcast.com where Smith is able to do what he does best, and host several entertaining podcasts.

Having said all of that, I’ve known about Kevin’s new horror film Red State for some time, and I have been eagerly awaiting its release on VOD at the start of this month. To say I wasn’t impressed, is putting it lightly.

Synopsis via IMDB: Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.

 

A group of teenage boys are drugged and fall into the clutches of Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) a Fred Phelps style preacher with a terrifying edge. The ATF, lead by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) show up at the compound and all hell breaks loose.

That’s what the trailer gives you, and that’s pretty much the movie.  Red State has some amazing scenes and a great villain in Michael Parks, but the story just doesn’t gel.  The three teenagers, Travis (Michael Angarano), Jarod (Kyle Gallner) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun, sporting the most hideous mullet I’ve ever seen) are your typical horror movie fodder, and the entire first half of the movie feels very generic, as they drive out of town to meet a woman they found on the internet with the promise of sex.  It’s clearly a horrible idea, but the boys do it anyway, and end up half naked and wrapped in heavy duty plastic wrap in Abin Cooper’s chapel.

Michael Parks performance alone was worth the rental fee. We’ve all heard of Fred Phelps and his antics picketing funerals of soldiers as well as hating the gay community and running the site “God hates fags”.

Fred Phelps ain’t got shit on Abin Cooper.

When you watch Abin Cooper you completely forget that it’s Michael Parks, Cooper’s a well dressed grandfatherly type of man who preaches hatred and bigotry with such eloquence and conviction that you can’t help but be completely mesmerized and disgusted with him simultaneously.

The problem comes in the second half of the film, as things suddenly change direction, going from horror film to action film when the ATF gets called in and Cooper and family start shooting it out. There are some great scenes that happen during the firefight, and John Goodman puts in a fantastic performance, but the giant shootout just doesn’t really make much sense.  I mean, the sequence of events that start the shootout make sense but it just doesn’t fit the tone of the film to that point.

Red State starts out cliché and then moves into promising territory with the introduction of Abin Cooper but instead of going the philosophical and violent direction I was expecting (like Martyrs) it suddenly feels like I’m watching The Devils Rejects and the Firefly family is having their last stand.

There is one moment during this whole cluster fuck shootout sequence that almost pulled things back together for me, when out of nowhere there’s a deafening trumpet sound. This moment grabbed me, as it seemed like maybe the apocalyptic preaching Cooper had done was actually about to take place. For once in a movie, I was actually excited to see possible divine intervention.  Instead we get John Goodman recapping how they wrapped up the situation and explaining that the trumpets were a hippie commune trying to annoy the Cooper’s clan. That they happened to play these Rapture announcing trumpets during a massive fire fight was just lucky timing.

Red State has genuinely awesome moments in it, and John Goodman and Michael Parks performances are amazing, but they seem like two characters from two distinctly different films that were suddenly smashed together.  Red State feels less like a cohesive whole and more like a series of cool moments that didn’t quite fit in any other script.  If the film had focused more on Cooper or hadn’t copped out at the end, I might have enjoyed it more, but in the end I was left with an overwhelming feeling of “What was the point?”

I wanted to like Red State but watching the trailer may have been a mistake, as I had a bad feeling about the film after I watched it and that feeling was correct. I don’t recommend Red State except for Michael Parks performance.  If you have seen Red State, I welcome all comments and would like to see what you the readers thought about the film.

 

 

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