Red State
R1 - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (27th October 2011).
The Film

Let’s get something out of the way right now:

This is not a horror film.

Despite what director Kevin Smith says, and despite IMDB’s classification, I can’t in good faith call “Red State” (2011) a horror movie. I know Smith has said that he considers it horror because the things which happen in the film are horrific. And he’d be right, but if you’re going to broadly paint this film into a genre classification, I’d consider it more in line with a thriller than horror. But enough with the classification drivel; I’m still geeking out over the fact that Smith has made what I would arguably consider his best achievement as a director and writer since debuting with “Clerks” back in 1994. So, really, he can call it whatever he wants.

I hate to say this, but I was totally dead set against seeing this movie; I was barely willing to give it a chance. I’ve been a fan of Smith’s work since he hit the scene, but in more recent years he’s appeared to place less focus on making quality cinema, instead funneling his efforts into crap like Twitter, his Smodcasts (sorry, I’m not a podcast guy) and PR stunts, like the one where he got kicked off Southwest Airlines because his ass had expanded past the point of seat accommodation. I get that his shtick is being the loveably fat, lazy stoner who made it in Hollywood, but that train derailed long ago. His output past “Dogma” (1999) is spotty at best. I’d argue that “Clerks II” (2006) was the last film he made with any real laughs, but it was also a safe bet to make since the original was so acclaimed. Sometime around when “Cop Out” (2010) was released I found myself thinking that Smith was done making fresh movies. I understand he only took it to be part of making a studio film that he’s ostensibly a hired gun for, but whether he wrote it or not (he didn’t) he’s still responsible for it as the director.

I didn’t think he was capable of making a horror film. This guy is known for his geeky dialogue and quirky humor – how could he possibly have something sinister up his sleeve? After watching “Red State” I’m convinced he has the goddamn devil up there. Coming in at a tight 88 minutes, the film is a blindside attack on expectations. Even Smith’s diehard fans would be hard-pressed to know he wrote & directed this because just about every vestige of his trademark humor and nuances is gone. I laughed exactly ONCE during the film – and it was the final line spoken. The narrative is concise, so not much time is wasted on exposition. It’s almost as though Smith made a list of every film cliché he wanted to avoid, along with the idea to rebuff audience anticipation of what’s going to happen next.

At this point you’re probably wondering what the film is about. The plot concerns a group of high school kids desperate to lose their virginity. When one of them comes across a sex ad online, the trio set up an appointment to meet a woman for an “all holes filled” night, but after downing a few beers upon arrival, they find themselves drugged and held captive by pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) and his Five Points church members. Abin is a bit like the infamous Fred Phelps, the bastard pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, a group known for incendiary hate speech and protesting the funerals of gays, military soldiers and some celebrities. The only difference here is that Cooper is even more extreme. His group makes a routine out of luring unsuspecting homosexuals and sexual deviants to their grounds for a brutal method of disposal. The boys soon find themselves in this wicked predicament until an escape attempt draws the unwanted attention of the local law enforcement. Realizing they’re outnumbered, and outgunned, the police turn to the ATF to bring down the extremist group (having labeled them “domestic terrorists”), but the church members are well-armed and more than willing to put up a fight.

You probably didn’t expect that to be the plot, did you? It certainly sounds much different than what I had been expecting when Smith announced his horror film. The battle to get it made was an uphill once, with Smith having difficulty finding funding since his constant champion, Harvey Weinstein, passed on the project. So he went out and found $4 million, used his usual crew and knocked out this film in a short amount of time. The subject matter is controversial, but that didn’t stop some top talent from signing on to be part of it. First and foremost, no review can be complete without mentioning Michael Parks' performance as Abin Cooper. There’s something spellbinding about his mannerisms and speech. It isn’t hard to see how mindless dolts could be persuaded to follow his lead. Parks exudes a calm cool throughout the film, even when faced with the impending death of his flock by the ATF’s guns. His ideals sound batshit crazy, but Parks is able to speak with such conviction that his words take on an unexpected prose. He delivers a sermon early on in the film that perfectly relays to the audience who all these people are, what they stand for and what they’re willing to do in support of those beliefs. Powerful stuff.

I don’t want this to be a discussion about religion (because those never end well) but it’s clear that Smith is not a fan of it. If “Dogma” didn’t make that obvious, then this film will cement it. Obviously, this picture depicts an extreme faction that operates outside the norm from most other religions, but I found it was only in their actions that they were fundamentally different. Much of their hate speech is simply a more direct interpretation of what many feel the Bible tries to convey. I’m not of the opinion that Smith made this film to put all religions in his crosshairs, although it would be hard to argue against the notion that ardent followers of any particular religion aren’t part of a cult. As an agnostic, I see no value in giving one’s life entirely to any religion, regardless of their belief system. I see it as more of a large support group for those who are afraid to accept the fact that once our bodies of flesh and blood die, we die. There is no magic cloud city where Jesus lives. The followers of the Five Points believe they’re doing God’s work, and by accepting this belief they’re able to perform heinous tasks as a twisted form of tribute or honor. I think anyone is free to believe what they will, but when groups like Five Points (or the real life Westboro a**holes) take it to the public, then that’s a case where I feel the government needs to step in and stamp them out.

Video

Smith shot “Red State” using the RED One camera (which is all the rage these days) along with a handheld for a few shots. The resulting 1.78:1 anamorphic image is strong for standard definition, though keep in mind that the image has been tweaked in post production. Most importantly, the picture appears as sharp and defined as DVD can provide, though you’re going to be missing much of the finer detail that would come with a high definition image. Colors appear overly saturated – likely a stylistic decision by Smith and cinematographer David Klein. The result gives the picture a thick, heavy appearance which, along with a suitable layer of film grain, provides an aesthetic that looks appropriately grimy. Not that Smith was going for a grindhouse look to his film, but it feels rawer than any of his prior efforts. Black levels were rich and deep, with no noticeable crushing or an anemic appearance.

Audio

When the film starts off, you’re going to be expecting the English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track to be a front-loaded affair since Pastor Cooper seems to favor a lot of talking. Dialogue is crisp and well-balanced among other effects, but about halfway through – when the fire fight breaks out – the dynamics of the track greatly shift, proving listeners with what is arguably the most active sound field every heard in a Kevin Smith movie. Machine guns and semi-automatics pop and explode from all corners of the room, sonically assaulting viewers and transporting them right into the heart of the action. The LFE track is featured intermittently throughout, but it has a nice weighted presence that anchors the soundscape. Considering the limitations of DVD sound, I’d call this a solid offering.
Subtitles are included in English & Spanish.

Extras

How could a Kevin Smith film hit home video and NOT feature an overly-generous smattering of extras. The man openly admits he’s a huge film geek, so he knows damn well to make sure his films are loaded up when they arrive in stores. There’s a documentary, several mini-commentaries, deleted scenes, interviews, a poster gallery and trailers.

“The Making of Red State” is a documentary which is broken up into two parts, though they can be played separately or at once.

- “Part 1” runs for 22 minutes and 30 seconds.
- “Part 2” runs for 21 minutes and 17 seconds.

I’m sure this was broken up into two parts because of the rules regarding documentaries, but this piece does a great job of covering all the bases surrounding the film. Smith provides his usual introduction, after which we’re given all the relevant information regarding the genesis of the film’s story, how Smith was able to secure funding, casting, shooting locations, the efficiency of Smith’s crew and editing the film together. I found it all very informative, to the point and well-covered.

“Smodcast” commentaries contains seven (!) tracks which run over the film. Now, not all of these run as long as the film does, but they each contain a lot of information regarding certain aspects of the production. None is a “true” commentary, but they all cover the film in enough areas that one likely would’ve been redundant:

- “Hear the Teaser” runs for 41 minutes.
- “The Harvey Boys” runs for 27 minutes.
- “Splinter of the Klein’s Eye” runs for 37 minutes.
- “Caster Master” runs for 1 hour and 4 minutes.
- “Canado!” runs for 1 hour and 10 minutes.
- “Brains and Braun” runs for 58 minutes.
- “Parks City” runs for 1 hour and 28 minutes.

Deleted scenes, with a brief introduction from director Kevin Smith, are available for the following:

- “Abin Cooper’s Full Sermon” runs for 18 minutes and 2 seconds.
- “”Touchdown” Scene” runs for 3 minutes and 38 seconds.
- “Original Sundance Ending” runs for 9 minutes and 11 seconds.

“The Sundance Speech” featurette runs for 35 minutes and 34 seconds. After another (lengthy) introduction form Smith, we’re treated to the entire speech he gave at Sundance when investors showed up expecting to bid on the film. If you didn’t already know, Smith spent the entire time talking about how much it sucks to make a film, only to then turn it over to some soulless corporation to market and distribute it. So, never one to shy away from controversy or a good story, has the film sold to himself for the meager sum of $20 with the intent to self-distribute it around the country.

“A Conversation with Michael Parksfeaturette runs for 17 minutes and 54 seconds. The legendary actor (even though many don’t know him well, the guy is amazing) discusses his role in the film, his methods of acting and what he did to really bring the character to life in such a chilling fashion.

There’s a poster gallery containing 9 images and, of course, Smith provides an introduction to it, which runs for 3 minutes and 6 seconds.

The film’s teaser trailer runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds. The theatrical trailer runs for 2 minutes and 25 seconds. Both are preceded by a brief introduction from Kevin Smith talking about getting the trailers together.

Bonus trailers are included for the following:

“Religious” runs for 2 minutes and 14 seconds.
“Kick-Ass” runs for 2 minutes and 35 seconds.
“Warrior” runs for 2 minutes and 35 seconds.
“Conan the Barbarian” runs for 1 minute and 12 seconds.
“Fear Net Originals” runs for 1 minute and 10 seconds.
“Epix promo” runs for 1 minute and 58 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes in a black keep-case.

Overall

Clearly, this is not what I was expecting from Kevin Smith. I really didn’t think the guy had it in him to make a serious, balls-out film that didn’t venture into toilet humor territory. I’ll say it again: if you didn’t know ahead of time, you would never guess Smith directed the film. I look at that statement as a testament to how much he’s grown as a writer and director. The film is full of memorable, startling performances and the twists and turns are going to keep most viewers wondering where everything is going to end before the credits roll. Lionsgate released this on DVD & Blu-ray, so expect to find both for a sub-$10 price shortly after release. Unless your home theater set-up limits you to DVD, I’d suggest picking up the Blu-ray once it hits your own personal price point. It’s a divisive film, but those less-easily offended by such subject matter should be fascinated with what Smith has delivered here.

The Film: B Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: A- Overall: B

 


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