film review: Red State (2011)


Red State poster, Michael Parks, Kevin SmithStrange, strange, strange.

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to like Red State. I liked the trailer but I’m not particularly a fan of Kevin Smith; I can still smell Cop Out from here… then again, I did really like Zack and Miri Make a Porno and I thought Chasing Amy was kind of interesting. So maybe I shouldn’t have been so apprehensive.

I guess the big issue was that, a lot has happened since Zack and Miri and I just wondered, is he really up to making a good movie? I mean, it looked like a cool horror film and I liked horror but… I am so often disappointed by horror as well that there just seemed no point to being properly excited.

As a result… and likely as a direct result, I really quite enjoyed Red State. It’s not the finest piece of drama I’ve ever seen, nor is it the funniest comedy, but there’s was just something about it. It had an idea behind it. Now, it was a pretty simple and obvious idea – to make extremist Christians and federal goverment organisations look stupid – but it was relatively well thought out and that’s more than I can say for some horror films. Ok ok, that’s not fair, I’m simplifying, but the point is it tried from something a bit more than a slasher film.

In case you haven’t seen the trailer – and I won’t go beyond what you see in the trailer – Red State starts off with 3 high schoolers boy being lured with the promise of sex, to the compound of an extremist Christian group. Next thing you know, the ATF show up and all hell breaks loose – Waco style. You can see the various trailers in my clips and trailer: Red State post if you fancy a look.

The big thing that surprised me about the film, especially after the trailer, is that Red State isn’t a horror film at all. It’s… hmm…. I can’t really put it in a genre. That’s what’s interesting about it. Kevin Smith really does seem to try and do something new here. Unfortunately for him, he just can’t quite seem to get it right. There’s a lot wrong with this film. A lot wrong. That’s not say that you shouldn’t see it. But be warned…

First issue is… the dialogue between the teens, ably played by Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano and Nicholas Braun, is some of the worst I’ve ever heard. Now, I never really notice swearing, honestly I don’t, and it doesn’t particularly offend me, but you couldn’t help but notice it here. These kids talked for twice as long as they should have with all the swearing. Seriously. A bit is fine. Some is fine. This was excessive. This was just stupid. Nobody talks like that.

Secondly the film is very inconsistant. It seems as though it’s trying to appeal to a teen audience at some points, a gore crowd at others, the arthouse audience along the way and just a broad cinema audience at times. It skips all over the place, never quite managing to focus or develop properly in any direction. It’s frustrating.

There are some other specific weak points that will test the audience. There’s a monologue from Parks which went on about 5 minutes too long and there’s one girl who’s just terrible. The sooner she was off the screen the better. It can’t be escaped though that the main problems are in the script and direction. Small niggling points like those can be ignored if the film hung together better.

To be honest, it’s just a shame, because I think there are flashes of greatness. Michael Parks and Melissa Leo put in some great performances and, as I mentioned, the teens (?) are relatively decent – shame about the dialogue. It’s also quite a fearless film in many ways, possibly borne of the… situations… Kevin Smith has found himself in recently. I just wish that… I think that… it just needed someone else to step in and reign him in.

Anyway, I do think Red State is worth a look. I wouldn’t call it some kind of return to form, or say that it shows Kevin Smith as the brilliant film-maker we know he can be. Hell, I never thought he was much of a film-maker anyway. But do go along and see it, or pick it up on DVD when it comes out. It’s not going to be a massive waste of your life. It can’t be really, it’s quite short.



  1. comment-avatar
    MunirOctober 4, 2011 - 7:06 pm

    That was a very well balanced critique. I am indifferent to the film’s trailer, but if it comes across my path, I might give it a look.

  2. comment-avatar
    Nicola-tOctober 4, 2011 - 11:58 pm

    Hey Munir,

    Sometimes I wonder if I go for a little too balanced… but then again, I only tell it like I see it. The fact is, Red State is kind of like, 75-80% of the way to a good film. It’s a lost opportunity really. It was… an interesting experience but I certainly wouldn’t think it’s necessary to rush out and see it in the cinema.

  3. comment-avatar
    MunirOctober 5, 2011 - 7:02 am

    What did you think of his film Dogma? Because I loathed that film.

    What you say about a lost opportunity and that line about someone else to reign him in…that’s how I feel about Dogma only it’s more like only 10% on it’s way to a good film.

    Disclaimer: I am heavily biased towards his movie Mallrats. That’s like the John Hughes movie of the late 90s Nirvana crowd.

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