Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: Red State

Holy SHIT does this suck.

This one is gonna be quick, because I don't like to review films I didn't see in theaters and it's not technically IN theaters yet (it's On-Demand) but I feel the need to review it anyway, if only to keep some of you from seeing it.

Who here knows, or cares, that once respected director Kevin Smith has been on a long slow downslide into shittiness ever since his masterpiece Dogma? No one? Didn't think so. he didn't have his 4 hour, 2 part film about a guy who starts hockey fights to protect the more important players coming out soon (no really, it's called Hit Somebody) I'd say Red State would be the nadir (excepting possibly Cop Out, but I haven't seen Cop Out and never will). Red State is, technically a horror film about a Fred Phelps (look him up) style Preacher, and while there's probably a solid premise in that, it's so heavily mishandled it looks like a student film. And not even a C Student at that.

The script is overly talkative, even by Kevin Smith standards and feels overwritten, again even by Kevin Smith standards. The direction is overdone and incompetent, but at least stylish and interesting (in many ways the only interesting aspect of the film, aside from the premise, is the visual style). But it's also completely wasted as it's not the LEAST bit scary or engaging. And that's not even mentioning the fact that at the halfway point it careens into a laughably terrible attempt at an action movie, and the shift in tone is so intensely jarring that it'd be impossible for a good movie to recover, ESPECIALLY since it seems to switch sides about who we should be rooting for.

The acting is mostly bad, save for John Goodman in a fairly basic version of his Big Lebowski personality, with nearly 0 interest, and Michael Parks intense performance as the insane preacher. Melissa Leo's character is crying out for some subtle acting to accentuate Parks' insanity, but decides to overact and sucks her entire character, and a good amount of the movie, with her. No one else is even worth mentioning, as they're all essentially playing stock characters.

Lacking any menace, scares, depth or excitement, all it can do is lumber slowly and incompetently towards it's inhumanly stupid ending. What a shame. With a better director and a solid script editor you probably could have had a great film on your hands, but the same could probably be said of The Room. Skip it.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's trying to remember enough of Jersey Girl to decide if it's worse than this.


  1. "...the shift in tone is so intensely jarring that it'd be impossible for a good movie to recover"
    Have you realized that maybe Kevin wanted to bring a realistic nature to the cinematography? The reason there is such a fluctuation in style, from shaky camera work to smooth close up shots, is to help push along the idea that this isn't the same as other horror films.

    A movie doesn't have to conform to the standards of Hollywood film style. You don't have to be like Cloverfield and maintain headache inducing camera work throughout, nor do you have to use overly smooth and slow movement throughout to portray the calm before the storm. The direction given by Kevin makes you feel as you should in within the moment you're watching, relative to the characters frame of mind.

    When you're in the church, before they kill the first of the boys, it flips from the wide shots of the church goers, and the up close and personal shots of the preacher. That is from the perspective of the congregation. The camera goes then into the cage or, later on, down into the basement, and immediately becomes gritty. That is from the perspective of the hostages.

    I really think you need to not look at this from the perspective of "classic" Hollywood style film that conforms to what people are used to, and to the art that is going all out and trying something new.

  2. Um, I think you misunderstood me Donald. I wasn't talking about the camera work (which, going under the heading the 'direction' was one of the few things I praised). I was talking about tone.

    For the record a horror movie can indeed switch camera styles and techniques and still work. To wit, The Shining switches from using large scale shots of the rooms to give the hotel the feeling of great size, to tight shots of Danny riding his bike to give a claustorphobic sense of being trapped, or of something chasing him.

    That isn't what Red State does. To use my Shining example, what happens in Red State is in the sequence where Wendy finds the 'All work and no play' manuscript, instead of a tense scene where Jack intimidates her, they both pull out pistols and machine guns and proceed to have an extended gunfight throughout the hotel.

    Think about that for a moment. Think of insane and wrongheaded that would feel. Because that's what happens in Red State. It tries to shift genre, midmovie, from horror to action. You can shift genre, if it's handled well (Drive did it for example) but it's a very hard transition to do, and Kevin keeps fumbling it. It doesn't help that, as you pointed out (accidentally), it essentially tries to switch sides. You cannot show us this church murdering people for no good reason and then ask us to root for them when the government shows up to try to stop them. Again, you can play with the concept of a hero A LOT but that's past the breaking point.

    I'm not thinking about in terms of 'classic' Hollywood style films. I love experimenting in film. My heroes are Stanley Kubrick, The Coen Brothers, David Lynch, people who have gone out of their way to defy to way films usually work. What happens when you shift tone that rapidly, it draws attention to the fact that it's a film. Every film, from a comedy, to a horror, to an action-adventure film, is trying to make me feel like what's happening on screen is real, that these are real people who's struggles matter. When you shift tone like that, it slaps me across the face and yells "HEY! THESE AREN'T REAL PEOPLE, THEY'RE JUST ACTORS! THIS ISN'T HAPPENING, IT'S JUST FAKE! WHY SHOULD YOU CARE!?" No film should ever do that, and while even good films occasionally do that by accident (Inglorious Basterds did it a couple times) this one kept doing it.

    And even if he was trying to make me feel like I was in the character's frame of mind or trying to "push along the idea that this isn't the same as other horror films," that wouldn't excuse the characters being paper thin, the story being stupid, the dialogue being poorly written, the horror not being scary and the action not being engaging.