Red State (2011, Smith)

Trying out something new, on some level, is always worthwhile. In filmmaking, when we come to expect one type of movie from a director, it can pigeonhole them. In the case of Kevin Smith, whose affair with public speaking tends to get more press these days than his films, he has carved out a foul-mouthed slacker niche that has invariably worked through the present. His new film Red State is a serious foray into horror. That he tries something new does not go unnoticed; if only the film were any good.

The big problem with Red State is that it feels like a fuzzy manifestation of one of Smith’s rants. His conceit has potential; some of the religious extremism that exists in this country is downright shudder-inducing and disturbing. But to throw his views onto the screen in the form of broad caricatures with no inkling of thoughtful execution is too reductive to be either scary or meaningful. As seemingly lazy as these portraits get, he throws in a ten-minute monologue that brings the film to a halt, destroys any sense of suspense and is painful in the sense that Smith clearly sees this as being a show-stopping moment. No; it is just uninterrupted pontificating.

As the film starts, three teenagers find themselves in a lethal situation when their quest to simultaneously have sex with a woman leads them into a trap set by religious extremists.

We endure misfire after misfire as we work our way through the challenge of caring an ounce about the three teenagers in turmoil.  Then Red State switches gears entirely and becomes a siege film in its last third. These drastic shifts in genre could have worked had any of its purported conviction materialized into anything lucid. Instead, it just feels like several different films and none of them are noteworthy. None of the characters stick, even Abin Cooper, the Fred Phelps inspired villain played by Michael Parks. Parks makes what he can of the character, but what should be a juicy role is undercut by Smith’s misuse of the character’s onscreen time. Melissa Leo overacts in a one-note performance while John Goodman is a pleasure to watch but this is entirely because he is John Goodman.

The last few minutes really shine some light on the film’s potential, making me wish Smith had regrouped and reconstructed the film as a pitch black satire. These moments late in the film do not feel earned; they feel like cheap shots. If the film had more of a backbone to its rage, it would have meant something.

Smith does a notable job in making the film feel and look scummy; it is present but not overdone and has its invisible effect on those watching. He also plays around a lot with expectations involving character deaths which give the film an air of unpredictable vim. And to make it clear, the general idea that Smith has here had potential; he has every right to fume about the issues at hand. What is unfortunate is that he was unable to take that ever-present anger that he always instills in his films through comedy, and do that with horror. The ambition is appreciated but this one is a non-starter.


10 thoughts on “Short Review: Red State (Smith, 2011)

  1. It’s a real shame, but it appears that Smith’s talents do not extend beyond his own self-made genre (I wasn’t a fan of Cop Out and this one looks unsatisfying). He says he will quit directing after his next movie, so hopefully that one will be up to his old standard.

  2. Wow, that’s unfortunate. I hadn’t read anything about the film before this, but I was still interested. I knew Smith was out of his element, but….yikes. Can you tell me a little more about why the Fred Phelps character was wasted?

    1. There are serious time management problems with the Michael Parks character. His ten minute monologue is useless and does not carry the impact Smith wants it to. Then we get a really conventional scene with him talking to a cop which is meant to create suspense. When the film dissolves into a siege film, it becomes all shooting with no time spent with the character. Lastly, we get a climactic scene at the end and by this point it is impossible to be invested with anything going on. It’s just unfortunate. I would still see it though; it may be a failure but its a failure that a lot of fun discussion can come out of. I always think most things are worth seeing even if they are bad. Thank you for reading and commenting! : )

      1. I’ll totally still see it. I agree with you a hundred percent that most bad movies are worth seeing for the discussion alone. Most. I don’t think D-Wars has anything worth dissection, but…yea.

        I’ll check this one out at some point, and I’ll probably feel the same way about the character. A ten-minute monologue? Seriously? How many good scenes could have been filmed in that time, I wonder….

  3. Mmm, it’s a crappy film all right. I’m only surprised that you saw something in the last five minutes to almost sway you. If anything, it moved me further in the opposite direction.

    1. I actually completely agree with you. I admit my review really does not get that across so I’ll try to put it another way. What was done in the last five minutes probably fell flat more than anything else in the film. But I think I clearly saw what he wanted this film to be and I felt like if he had executed the entire thing in a different, more successful way, that the satirical intention in the last five minutes would have come across better. *But* those last five minutes would have needed an entire reworking as well. I just saw in that scene how Smith saw his film and wish he could have made it work. I do say that it’s a cheap shot, and unearned but I should have stated that it is also ludicrous and painfully amateur. It really is my fault that did not come across. I *completely* agree with you. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    1. It really is too bad. If you liked the trailer, you should check it out so you can see what you think for yourself. If you do, let me know! Thank you for reading and commenting : )

  4. I enjoyed Red State, and I’m surprised by how poorly it’s been received. Maybe some of that comes from being marketed incorrectly. It’s not the best film, but it was thought provoking (for me at least).

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