Thursday, October 20, 2011

Red State

Three horny teenage boys plan to meet a stranger they met online for sex, and instead find themselves captured by a weirdo group of fundamentalist Christians with some extreme ideas on how to atone for your sins.

Way back in February, I wrote a post where I made a bunch of predictions about how Kevin Smith's ambitious but also kind of obnoxious plans for the distribution of Red State, his first ever non-comedy, would turn out. I then, more or less, promptly lost interest and forgot to keep following the story. So I'm not really sure if any of my predictions came true, and at the moment I'm too lazy to do any research.

There is one comment, though, that I'd like to eat. Or at least nibble a bit. I predicted that it would lack "the needed atmosphere and tight directorial craft that make for a truly special horror film." I guessed correctly that I would enjoy it but have mixed feelings overall, but my problems with the film honestly had little to do with Smith's direction. In fact, he does a pretty okay job going out of his comfort zone and trying something new. Cop Out had lead me to think Smith incapable of doing anything besides scenes of people talking at each other, but Red State looks and feels like a real horror movie. So kudos to Kevin for stretching his wings.

The problem I guess is that it's a movie that works more in concept than it does in execution. For instance, it pulls what is, in theory, one of my favorite tricks in horror movies, right out of the Hitchcock playbook, where SEMI SPOILERS characters we might assume are the lead characters are abruptly knocked off, making way for other characters. It's a nice way to shock the audience out of complacency, but I don't think Smith pulls it off entirely, and the result is that the film feels more disjointed than it should.

The same goes for a lot of other major elements. The film is going for a pretty bleak tone, with no real heroes or likable characters, which I admire but it also has the side effect from removing a lot of the suspense out of the second half of the film. It essentially becomes bad guys vs bad guys. It doesn't stop being entertaining, but you're not so much invested in the actual outcome. Near the end, Smith throws in what seems to be a pretty radical, biblical twist... but then walks back from it and provides a much less interesting explanation.

The film is, the more I think about it, chock full of great ideas, but a lot of them don't really play out as successfully as you'd like. It's not a disaster either; these ideas are legitimately good and they get milked enough to keep you going along. Plus, you can't help but admire the effort. It sounds like Smith is going back to comedy, but I'd actually like to see him tackle something like this again. It's an ambitious film with a lot of intriguing elements, strong performances, unique touches. Even if it doesn't come together like gangbusters, we need more people out there trying to make these kinds of horror movies.

Grade: B-


Shenan said...

Two things:

1) The "radical Biblical twist" that he walks away from and explains in a much less interesting way....almost felt as unrealistic as a Biblical explanation would have been. Or maybe more so, since we can accept a Biblical explanation on the ground that all rules of logic are out the window if it's true. But the whole "yeah this (SPOILERS) group of perfect, kind, angelic kids on this eco-co-op, that have never been mentioned in the movie before we needed them for an explanation, finally got fed up with being harassed and conveniently happened upon an old fire horn being sold off by the fire department, and decided to buy it, conveniently remembering (though they are not, presumably, versed on scripture like the minister is, or if they are, it's another really convenient fact!) a passage in Revelations about trumpets sounding, and decided to mess with them, at the exact moment that it proved a critical plot point!"? It sounds more like some incredulous story Jay would tell Silent Bob to pass the screen-time as they're walking through the mall, about something that happened to a friend of a friend of theirs they knew in high school. But not something that would actually be a turning point in the plot at the climax of a movie.

2) Did parts of it kind of call to mind Burn After Reading? I dunno...something about the tone, the rapid-fire exchange between John Goodman and his superiors (and inferiors), the way the whole second half is kind of told via a trial/briefing of what happened...something about it reminded me of BAR.

Shenan said...

I meant "subordinates"....inferiors wasn't the right word.

Dan said...

Well, the ending with Goodman and the bureaucrats was very clearly reminiscent of BURN AFTER READING, what with government agents sitting around an office and basically brushing off the events of the film. Hard not to see it as a direct influence.

I honestly don't mind that the horn this is unrealistic. I mean, it's SUPPOSED to be a deus ex machina, the whole point is that everyone gets saved by a strange coincidence. It's just that you're initially lead to believe that the "deus" part is literal, and I think that might have been a cooler, more provocative ending. Especially if both the religious nuts and the ATF agents had been dragged to hell.

Actually, now that I think about, Smith is (or was?) a Catholic, and in the past at least has come of as genuinely religious in interviews and such. It may be that the horn at the end, although given a literal explanation, was still supposed to be a sort of "God works in mysterious ways" sort of thing.

Shenan said...

Hmmm. Interesting.