Thursday, October 20, 2011
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.