Monday, October 24, 2011

Red State (now available on home video)

[RED STATE is now available on home video.]
Review by Bob Ignizio

RED STATE has been promoted as Kevin Smith's take on the horror genre, and for about the first 30 minutes or so that would be a fair enough description. A trio of teens (Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner and Nicholas Braun) hoping to get lucky answer an online personal ad from a woman who claims to want all three of them at once. The woman is Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo), who turns out to be the daughter of fire and brimstone preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), clearly modeled after Westboro Baptist nutjob Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps.

Sarah gives the boys drugged beers, and when they wake up they find themselves prisoners of Cooper's congregation, along with another bound and gagged man strapped to a cross. At this point we enter into “torture porn” territory a little bit as Abin and his flock get set to kill their prisoners one by one. We also get Parks doing a great scenery chewing monologue that's fun at first, but unfortunately Smith doesn't know when to cut. Anyway, things don't go as planned. A fender bender the boys were involved in while en route to Sarah's trailer results in the ATF, led by John Goodman, being dispatched to the Cooper compound.

At this point the movie leaves horror territory behind and turns into an action/siege film with obvious parallels to the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco from a few years back. The way the film shifts genres recalls Robert Rodriguez' FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, and Smith even tries to pull off a PSYCHO style shocker by having some of the characters we expect to spend most of the movie with dispatched early, but since we never get to know or care about any of these characters the way we do about Marion Crane in Htichcock's film, it doesn't have much impact.

The standoff itself is tense and well staged, and I appreciated that Smith shows the insanity of both sides. As that tension keeps on building, it really feels as though the film should be headed towards a truly apocalyptic conclusion along the lines of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Instead Smith just lets his film sputter across the finish line in a bland and unsatisfying manner. The last act of the film is nothing but Goodman's character being debriefed by his superiors in a office and spelling out the film's message about extremism of all kinds being bad, something that Smith should have trusted his audience to pick up on without being so heavy handed about it. (2 1/2 out of 4 stars)

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