Red State Movie Review
Written by Charlotte Stear
DVD released by Entertainment One
Written and directed by Kevin Smith
2011, 88 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Michael Angarano as Travis
Kyle Gallner as Jarod
Nicholas Braun as Billy-Ray
Michael Parks as Abin Cooper
Melissa Leo as Sara
John Goodman as Joseph Keenan
Foreward: The original review was written after a cinema screening of Red State. The section on the extra features was added after viewing the UK Blu-ray, released 24th January 2012 by Entertainment One Distribution.
Red State finally sees its UK release this week and I got the opportunity to sneak a quick preview as Kevin Smith toured the UK with his new horror film on his Q&A tour.
There’s no need to go over the obvious here, this is new ground for Smith and a long way from his Silent Bob days, so a horror piece from the funny man was definitely going to raise a few eyebrows. It’s a bold step, and after watching it I was immediately glad he has decided to branch out into a new genre.
The film follows three young guys (Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and Kyle Gallner) looking to have a good time in Middle America where there is nothing to do but get into trouble. The boys are unknowingly lured into a church of Christian extremists led by Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) to be executed in front of his congregation and rid the world of evil. However, the local sheriff realises there is trouble with the fundamentalist group and calls in Joe Keenan (John Goodman), a government agent who has been tracking the religious group.
Red State starts with an intensity that has you practically on the edge of your seat, and yes I hate that clichéd phrase, but it’s the only way to describe the first 30 minutes or so. The three boys are herded into a manically crazy situation in which they can see what is going to happen to them, and as the audience, we feel their dread too. There are no major scare techniques; it is all tensely created by the script and fantastic acting. There is no score whatsoever, which is something Kevin Smith pointed out during his Q&A session, I really wouldn’t have noticed otherwise, which is quite remarkable considering how many horror films rely on music to manipulate the audience into being scared and creating jumps. Quite an impressive feat.
Though there is a solid start to it, the film does seem to change in tone and becomes more than a horror film as the special agents come into play in the story. Although I liked where the story went, how it got there felt a bit disjointed and this is the one place I feel the film does suffer. There second half definitely lags in comparison to the explosive beginning.
There are some fine performances here which really make the movie work. Michael Parks as Abin Cooper is mesmerising and terrifying at the same time and I couldn’t picture anyone else achieving the same result other than him. Melissa Leo as Sara, daughter of Abin, delivered a really intense performance and John Goodman blew me away. Being a fan of his in the TV series Treme, it was exciting to watch him do something a bit different. The one performance to watch out for is Kerry Bishé as Cheyenne, daughter of extremist Sara, who puts in some incredibly emotional, gut wrenching scenes.
It’s a fantastic subject matter and a particularly unique concept, there’s no denying the massive references to the “most hated family in America”, the Phelps, when looking at the onscreen family of extremists, and what can be more horrifying than looking up at a screen knowing there are people out there that believe with the same intensity as what is being depicted? Very well, they aren’t wrapping people up in cling film and executing them, but it is the terror of what the human mind can do that is the undeniably scariest thing of all when watching this.
Smith obviously has a passion for the genre which makes his work very compelling, his style and the way the film is shot really adds to the intensity of the feature and there aren’t many films you can compare it to. At a push, I was reminded of The Devil’s Rejects in style and the shootout scenes, but that’s about it. Having Quentin Tarantino’s approval brazenly blasted over the posters of the film, (“I love this movie!”) is a great stamp of approval and it’s quite apt too because I was faintly reminded of Tarantino’s work in the long dialogue sequences Smith has put in Red State, not usually his style, but then, none of this really is.
This may be new ground for Smith but his humour is still pretty prevalent, there are some very funny moments but these also act as great tension breakers. In fact, I laughed far too hard at things that weren’t that funny just because of the light relief it gave me, but I was glad to see it still there, a hint of the Smith we are familiar with.
It must have been tough for Smith to tackle such a project, not only in the subject matter and style, but also in having people constantly refer back to his previous work. It does suffer in the way it flows, but essentially this is a really good, original horror movie. And that’s all we really want isn’t it?
There is a very cool selection of extras on the Red State Blu-ray which includes:
- Making of Red State With Intro by Kevin Smith
- The Sundance Speech with Intro By Kevin Smith
- A Conversation with Michael Parks with Intro by Kevin Smith
- Deleted Scenes with Intro By Kevin Smith
- Trailers with Intro By Kevin Smith
- Poster Gallery with Intro by Kevin Smith
- Red State of the Union Smodcasts
You may see a recurring theme on these features, all come with a small introduction with director Kevin Smith which gives a nice added charm. After watching them all you will be very aware of all the hard work that went into the funding, making and touring of the movie and the intros by Smith are just another way of him stamping his approval on everything about this film.
The extras kick off with a really excellent 45-minute documentary that takes us behind the scenes of the making of Red State. It includes interviews with the cast and crew and has some great insights into what was endured while making the film. It also gives Smith a chance to talk about his reasons for taking this direction and how he came to make such a different kind of film to what we normally see from him. I especially liked how Smith describes Red State compared to his other movies, “Most of my films are like a milkshake: real smooth to drink. This one’s more like a whiskey.” The documentary continues its story after the making of the film, and shows us the journey as Smith took it on the road. It reflects on his current position on movie making and really emphasises what it took to get this movie made. Considering the subject matter of the film it comes as no surprise that the family that Red State is loosely based on, the Phelps, make an appearance outside of a screening of the film in Kansas City. They have the actual footage of their protest and Smith’s story behind that. After watching Red State this will be incredibly eerie to watch.
Big fans of Kevin’s Smodcast will be very happy as there are 13 episodes on the disc that chat about the movie as it progressed. One of Smith’s real pleasures in life is social media and he knows how to work it. He has a massive following and its things like the podcasts and his Twitter page that really helped get this film made. This links quite nicely to the next feature on the disc, Smith’s speech at Sundance. This is particularly interesting to fans of all Smith’s work as it has been 17 years since Clerks was first shown at that very festival. To see him back there with such an interesting piece of work that really took time and effort to make, is something any fan would be eager to see.
After this there is a very interesting interview with the real star of the movie, Michael Parks. Smith’s intro for this is nothing short of glowing and the interview itself is fascinating. Parks has a slow, deep, growl of a voice that was one of the mesmerising things about his performance. Getting an insight into how that character came about and how Parks shaped it is very compelling to watch.
The features round up with the inevitable deleted scenes, trailers and poster which are all the general things you expect to see, nice to have them there, but it’s nothing massively special.
Everything on this disc complements the sentiment of the film, it has been a hard road for Smith and this project that he has crafted and that work shows in these features. The only thing that would have made this even better would be a director’s commentary over the top of it all. I got the chance to see Smith chat after a screening of this movie and the things he pointed out in that short hour were unbelievable, the possibilities of what he would ramble on about and point out as the film unfolds would be utterly fascinating. Sadly, we don’t have that on here but all in all, these are some great extras that will give you a lot to think on after watching them.