Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Movie Review: Red State (2011)

red stateSex, religion, politics. Take these three ingredients and mix them together and you get one hell of an explosion!

In Red State, a group of teenage boys find an internet invitation for sex in a local location. Not believing their luck, they set out to take advantage of their opportunity only to find themselves drugged and kidnapped by an extreme fundamentalist Christian sect. The members of this sect have an intense antipathy to the way the world is spiralling down into moral oblivion – manifested especially by rampant sexual promiscuity and the evils of homosexuality being accepted in society. And they are doing something about it. Their worship service involves bringing God’s judgment to the wayward sinners in their midst after a rousing sermon from the Grand-daddy of the family sect. On their way to their sexual encounter, the three teenagers accidentally side swipe a police officer’s car and the officer tries to track them down – ultimately bringing them into conflict with the sect. The ATF (Burea of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) are called in and political decisions are made to wipe out the sect with fire power.

If all this sounds reminiscent of certain historical events (like Waco, Texas and David Koresh) then you’d be right. But Kevin Smith (Clerks) has brought us an over-the-top horror-thriller that contains too much truth for comfort. It tellingly portrays contemporary tensions between religion and politics that so often centre around aspects of sex, particularly in America. The basic point is that neither religion nor government really know how to communicate and handle each other and when they come together it creates a tinder box of dangerous attitudes that have serious consequences.

Red State is very violent in making its point – but religion and governments have resorted to violence to try to “manage” their agendas. If you are at all squeamish – better not to see this one. If you do see it, you are in for a very confronting experience that will have you thinking deeply for a long time.

The acting is top-notch, especially Michael Parks as the sect leader and John Goodman as the ATF officer. The story is riveting and suspenseful. And watching it is like being tied to the tracks in the face of an oncoming train. Kevin Smith, the writer and director, has stated that this film is not a comedy (as many of his other films are) and that ‘[i]t’s a nasty-ass $4 million horror flick with few (if any) redeeming characters.’ The movie was shot in 25 days and it has a rawness about it as a result. Interestingly, there is no actual soundtrack to the film. The music you hear is all in the film itself. So what you see and hear is what there is.

One of the most disturbing moments (actually more than 10 minutes) is a sermon preached by the sect leader. You don’t hear many “speeches” in movies that go for this length of time. But this one punches below the belt. As you listen to it, you suddenly realise that the things we’re hearing are actually being said by individuals and groups in our society. And they form the basis of the horror that follows in the story.

Red State is already controversial and is receiving highly mixed reviews – it looks like critics either love or hate it. Essentially, Red State is, as Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter has said, ‘A potent cinematic hand grenade tossed to bigots everywhere.’

Go see it if you dare.


Positive Review
'Red State is as profane and anti-establishment as any of his other films, but the stakes are infinitely higher this time: This Kevin Smith movie has an astonishing body count.' – Rene Rodriguez/Miami Herald

Negative Review
'Ugly characterizations and simplistic preachiness negate the terror in Red State - a film that eventually proves horrific in ways unintended by writer/director Kevin Smith.' – Nick Schager/Boxoffice Magazine

Content Advice
strong violence/disturbing content, some sexual content including brief nudity, and pervasive language.

AUS: MA15+