Red State – A Study In Broken Quality

by ryankl

I dug Red State.

This warped horror flick from Kevin Smith that is Porky’s meets the Westboro Church is chock full of tone and beats that worked for me completely. I think it’s fascinating that Smith, the king of the lowbrow punchline, can deliver such a moody flick that really grips you once you are in it. After watching it, I found myself with some thoughts, so enjoy, and assume there are spoilers below.

This flick is fascinating structurally because it has no protagonist that I could see. The kids all die too soon, and become too passive, to be the true lead of the flick and Michael Parks’ Abin Cooper certainly chews up some screentime but he’s gotta be the antagonist of the piece. And as for John Goodman’s government agent, he’s interesting but I never saw this as his flick. The movie floats around quickly from place to place and does it all well but doesn’t thread across a character as much as a situation and a place. Not that this is a problem, I didn’t mind not following a lead but it felt unconventional and a bit of a structural gamble.

The initial complication of the flick, the teens answering the sex ad and being accosted by religious zealots, is good but what grabbed me by the scruff was the further complication of the government handling of the case. The cold manner in which they plan to wipe the family out, the specific ways they’re going to go about that, and the toll that takes on Goodman’s character. That all fuelled really solid drama and some moments of analysis of the terrible human condition.

But seriously, who would have thought Smith could do this sombre horror flick, with some action and camera movement, so well? There’s nothing wrong with the tone of this flick.

What some will see as wrong with this flick is the ending. It’s mildly amusing that a film about religion gone wrong features a deus ex machina as it’s finale, I get the hidden gag of it, but it’s also somewhat a cop out. Before this, things are set up tightly and kind of heartbreakingly on many levels, so to just see it sort of fumble to the finish line over an almost gag was a shame because it didn’t hold the same level of density and rules as the start. I understand Smith originally wanted the Rapture to descend, and that finale would have been epic and somewhat strange, and so maybe he just never quite got a handle on a perfect ending that could be earned. This one is good, I certainly don’t hate it, but it felt a little easily triggered. Everything else, the government handling of the conclusion, is pretty spot on.

This is a short punch of visceral entertainment that held me to the screen for the entire time. It’s not perfect but it’s insanely better than I thought it would be, or was led to believe. I’d definitely back Smith doing another flick on this level.

I should also say, Smith taking this flick, making it on the super cheap, and then personally distributing it was a ballsy move and something inspiring. It didn’t work out gangbusters but seeing someone not compromise and then making the art they want on their terms is something we should all support and enjoy.

In the end, I’d put this at the higher end of the Smith catalogue. Check it out if you dig tense and terse horror with a gun streak through it.