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#2. Red State - Review

Red State - BannerIt seems quite rare to witness an actual turning point in a director’s career. Sure many directors perhaps stray from what brought them initial acclaim, I immediately think of Alfonso Cuaron following up his critically heralded and sexually charged Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) with a Harry Potter sequel. A decision no one could have seen coming, and yet his Prisoner of Azkaban is considered by many to be the best of the series. Robert Rodriguez has his successful Spy Kid series, a shock to those expecting only El Mariachi pulp fests. But for every Azkaban there is the heartbreak film nerds feel when a good director turns hack. After the surprise impact Hard Candy had on the film universe in 2006, David Slade went from being one of the most exciting premiere directors in Hollywood to message board troll bait when he signed on to helm one of the Twilight sequels. People think they want artists to venture out of their comfort zone and explore foreign characters, situations, and themes, but in all honesty those artists (be it in film, music, or any other medium) are not only putting their identity and fan-base on the line, but their integrity as well. Not moral integrity mind you, but that creative rectitude that seems to be so important to the devotees of all things indie. That solidarity teenagers and twenty-something hipsters feel with their band that no one has heard of or the director of that amazing film no one will see.Red State Film Poster

For a filmmaker like Kevin Smith fan base is everything, and he knows it. Hell, I am pretty sure he just legally changed his name to @thatkevinsmith and for good reason. He has been the trail blazer for bypassing the middleman that has controlled the movie industry since the 1950s and went straight to the consumer. And for the last 15 years or so Smith has been comfortable hocking his familiar wares to the same base he built with Clerks and Mallrats, consistently cranking out recognizable comedies set in the View-Askew universe, quietly establishing a particular genre of R-rated comedy that Judd Apatow and company have exploited in the last decade.

Apparently not one to be stifled, Smith’s new film Red State is unlike anything the Jersey born auteur has attempted before. There are very few pop culture references (Star Wars or otherwise), not a single Quick Stop in sight, and no one even resembling Jay and Silent Bob – although Caleb, a prominent character in the film played with surprising ferocity by Southern California radio legend Ralph Garman, does not speak a single word throughout the film. No, this is not a traditional Smith effort, and he would probably be the first to say that is a good thing. He wanted to try something different and fresh, at least for him, and in the process gambled his image and his fanbase for a new chapter in his career. Luckily for everyone involved, Smith bet on Red, and it paid out big time.

Red State Film BannerRed State is many things; a dissection of the ever cracking wall of separation between church and state in this country, an (hopefully) exaggerated interpretation of the hyper-religious leaders consistently making news with their doggedly desperate reactionary protestations against anything they deem immoral or against their God’s will, and it also makes interesting assertions to our post 9/11 government locked and loaded with the Patriot Act and how the power granted them has absolutely corrupted. Red State is a heavy film, and succeeds at reaching its lofty goals of social and political criticism.

Red State Michael ParksTo find out this has been a grass roots style labor of love from Smith should firstly be of no surprise and secondly be of no consequence. Red State is as biting and relevant as his more regarded films from the 1990s, specifically Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma. He has always been a man with something to say, and while the camera has not always been his most effective means of communicating his point, words empowered by a unique incite coupled with sheer bluntness have been the director’s greatest weapon.

The film’s set-up is generic, but not to a fault. It is obvious that Smith has affection for the horror films of the late 70s and 80s. After three Middle American high school friends turn to the Internet for an anonymous hassle free hook-up, they are quickly captured by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), the leader of a fundamentalist church looking for fresh sinners to sacrifice in the name of the lord. Again, not exactly groundbreaking, and yet it must be said Smith’s take on the punishment of teenage deviants is an interesting one. Traditionally evil has been personified in the form of psychotic madmen on film. Donning a mask and a machete, these horror villains hunt down sexually corrupted teenagers and brutally dispense with their own unique brand of punishment. Red State is more terrifying than any other film dealing with the subject of righteousness because it is those that look to God for guidance that are the most malevolent.

Red State The Boys PosterWith more pizzazz than any other Smith undertaking, what he achieves here along side his usual cinematographer David Klein is an honest accomplishment. As the film’s intensity ramps up, so to does the camera, aiding Smith’s narrative drive and thematic campaign to achieve an illustrious cinematic crescendo. Red State does tonally trip up from time to time, but honestly I think that is more of an issue of the genre than the script. Any faults with the screenplay or Smith’s less technical directing style is quickly compensated by the acting, particularly that of Parks. Like what Blue Velvet did for Dennis Hopper, Sin City for Mickey Rourke, and Kill Bill for David Carradine, Red State will be remembered for reintroducing the world to Michael Parks.

With so much build-up to my viewing of Red State, my immense enjoyment brings more relief than surprise. Kevin Smith is a director that should never be discounted; he has done more for the evolution of not just comedy in this country, but is one of the main reasons it is okay to be a nerd in 2011. He has been and will continue to be a rebel and an innovator in Hollywood, and I cannot wait to see how he will change the game next.

Have you seen Red State? Am I on the money or just a blind Kevin Smith fanboy stuffed on Mooby Muffins? Let me know your opinion of the flick and/or my review, and what you think of the divisive director and his new foray into horror. Click the "share" button below and help get the word out!

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