Red State (2011)

If Red State had been the efforts of amateur filmmakers, I’d have chalked it up to being one hell of an try in the horror genre. But knowing Kevin Smith inside and out, I’m inclined to say that Smith seems almost disingenuous in his efforts to create an independent film that may or may not be independent when all is said and done. Smith knows his way around the camera and while I can’t fucking stand a single film from the man, “Red State” is a film that disappointed because the man does nothing with the genre that we haven’t already seen. And he’s working in my genre, the horror genre, so I expected big things from this considerable clunker. Rabid Christian fundamentalists, torture porn, commentary on religion, it’s all on the menu from a god fearing man like Kevin Smith who can never be sure if he’s putting religion to task for corrupting us, or merely just showing that religion has a bad side like it has a good side. “Dogma” was in fact an unbridled celebration of the mythos behind his religion, now “Red State” takes it to task and can never be quite certain what kind of message it’s trying to convey.

Religion is bad? Is that what you’re telling us? It can be bad? Is that it? In the right hands a trusted master, in the wrong hands a tool of evil? Is that it? I was never too sure, but Smith aims for just the right tone and subject putting on screen a veritably menacing figure in the cloth cut from Fred Phelps that demonstrates that Smith merely had nowhere to go with this material. I saw literally dozens of indie films in the same vein when the entire Red State and Blue State debacle began and I’ve seen much better than what Kevin Smith has to offer. Not to say that “Red State” is a badly made film. It has some technical prowess behind it and it has something to say but what, I’m currently at a loss, to be honest. It postures itself time and time again to the audience that it’s saying something of considerable merit to us, but what? What is the insight Smith is trying to reflect as a man who is an admitted follower of the religious faith? What does he have to tell us that we can’t find in a sensationalistic article on some blogspot account by a half baked journalist? We already know Fred Phelps is something of a monster, but to aim at his level seems almost too easy even for Kevin Smith. It’s like no one else would go near this sort of slapdash easy material except Kevin who seems convinced that he could do something no one else could.

Which isn’t true in the slightest. He doesn’t even have the balls to directly link Phelps to Abin Cooper and makes a point of indicating they’re separate entities. Which is a shame. For all the slack I give it, “Red State” does have something behind it and that is the performances. Michael Parks is amazing as Abin Cooper, the demented and sanely sound preacher of his small church who enlists his followers to do deeds he would never take part in and revels in his god-like stature among impressionable children and put upon housewives. Parks has always been something of an under appreciated character actor over the years in his bit parts and supporting performances, and here he is able to flex his abilities to the maximum as this evil genius who is unfettered in his ability to dole out extenuating circumstances for defying the holy bible. What’s bad is that he knows what he’s capable of. And what’s worse is that he can convince his followers to do whatever he wants. Even if it openly defies the tenets of the holy bible. Beyond that “Red State” is a mostly unfocused and mean spirited practice in torture porn that pretends it has something really honest to goodness important to tell us about religion, it’s just never sure what.

I’d love to believe this is supposed to be open to interpretation, but it shouldn’t be my job to fill in the holes for a man like Kevin Smith whose had more than enough time to polish out this script, so filled with endless exposition and clunky back story that the narrative screeches to a halt time and time again, just to make it perfectly clear that Abin Cooper is an evil religious deity whose power may be tough to thwart in the face of his followers. By the time the third speech rolls around about the evil Abin Cooper and his church, I was about ready for the story to continue on and wanted to discover the fate of the hapless moronic teenagers drugged and ready to be tortured for lusting after a woman. Wait… where have I seen that premise before? Ah yes. Hostel. Made by Eli Roth, another director I detest for doling out nothing but torture porn pretending to be something richer and more intellectual.

I digress, “Red State” is an important film if only for its ability to elevate its director in to a higher echelon of filmmaking that proved once and for all that Smith could ride on his reputation and thumb his nose down at honest hard working indie filmmakers struggling for distribution deals right now. Beyond that as a film it bears little significance in a world where religion has been put under the microscope time and time again through books, and documentaries. It’s nothing but a ho hum cringe inducing effort from a man who has little to offer a genre I hold near and dear to my heart.His fans will of course give him a cookie for trying, because we apparently owe Kevin Smith the benefit of the doubt time in and time out. Admittedly one of the most grotesque films of 2011, “Red State” has nothing to offer in the form of religious or political commentary. It’s merely a “Hostel” rip off with barely any story foundation to keep it afloat. Stay for the performances, but don’t bother with most of the filler.