Writer/director Kevin Smith tries his hand at gory horror with Red State, a movie about a wacko church and some unfortunate teens.
Red State is also a movie that may or may not actually be released in a theater near you. Kevin Smith has made a big hullabaloo about distribution, eventually saying he was going to self-distribute. Across the Internet, some sites are giving an Oct. 18 DVD release and others are saying there may still be at least a one-night theater engagement in September. What I can say for sure is that the movie had a limited run at a theater in Los Angeles, making it eligible for the Oscars (ha!), and now it is available in the “in theaters” section of On Demand.
So is it worth your $9.99?
Teenagers Travis (Michael Angarano), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) and Jarod (Kyle Gallner) find a website where a local woman claims she’s looking for a good time. One of them contacts her and she agrees to “party” with all three of them. Having apparently never seen any movies or read any newspapers, the trio of horny nitwits heads to the town a few miles away where they are scheduled to meet her.
A few things about this setup: (1) this happens to be the town that is home to Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) and his nutty Five Points Church (which Smith and the film use as a kind of stand-in for Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church) and (2) on the way in to town, the boys sideswipe a car stranded on the side of the road (inside of which the sheriff played by Stephen Root is engaged in his own little sideplot) and (3) did I mention the part about three boys getting an invitation for sex from a total stranger? My point is that there is a lot of suspension of disbelief required in the first 20 minutes of this movie.
When the boys get to the woman’s trailer, Sara (Melissa Leo) gives them a few beers to down before they get started. Naturally, those beers aren’t just beers and as the boys are giggling over their good fortune and starting to undress they pass out.
When Jarod wakes up, he finds himself inside a cage being wheeled into, naturally, Five Points Church, where Abin Cooper gives what feels like an infinitely long sermon (which I think was about sin but my mind started to wander and soon it was minutes later and I realized that he was still talking). Then, Cooper and a few members of his crazed-cult church torture and kill a man plastic-wrapped to a cross. Jarod quickly realizes he’s up next.
But meanwhile, the sheriff has sent a deputy out looking for the car that hit him. The deputy sees the car in the church’s parking lot and the members have to take time out from murdering people to try to talk the deputy into thinking all’s well. Since ATF agents Keenan (John Goodman) and Brooks (Kevin Pollack) soon show up outside the church compound, you can probably guess that the discussion didn’t go well.
In so far as this movie has any drama to its story at all, I suppose it is over the outcome of these two questions: (1) how will the stand-off between the government and the church members end? and (2) will the boys get out safely? The movie answers these questions fairly quickly and then keeps going, with dreary violence and biblical-flavored nonsense from its churchy villains and the occasional smartypants comment from Goodman’s character. The movie is only 88 minutes long but it feels never-ending — never-ending but with nothing happening. The movie itself starts to feel like that early scene of Cooper speechifying about sin and lust or whatever. The camera hangs on the goings-on with a kind of smothering intensity, but we’re watching, basically, nothing. The church people aren’t fully realized enough for us to have any interest in how they think or what their goal is. And the teens stop being the focus of the film once the stand-off begins. As a viewer, I felt unmoored — adrift in images but without any sense of where I was going or why I’d care to get there.
It feels like Smith, having assembled all of these parts, didn’t quite know how to put them together. He seems fond of the Cooper character — not, like, personally fond but delighted by his cragginess and malevolence. The camera lingers on him in this way that suggests we’re catching a real humdinger of a performance. But the character is just a ranty nut whom we never get to know enough to really fear or hate or whatever it is Smith wants us to feel when we see him close up for minute upon countless, glacial minute.
So, no, Red State is not worth the extra charge to your cable bill, not even if his tweets and his podcasts have allowed you to remain a Kevin Smith fan long past the point when his movies had that effect. D-
Rated R for strong violence/disturbing content, some sexual content including brief nudity, and pervasive language. Written and directed by Kevin Smith, Red State is an hour and 28 minutes long and is available through video on demand.