Red State (Kevin Smith, USA)

Something strange has happened to Kevin Smith.  His past as a purveyor of foul mouthed slacker comedies does not prepare the audience in any way for what unfolds in this difficult, brutal and uncompromising film.

The film starts simply enough as what seems like another teen horror movie when three horny teenage boys head off to meet a mysterious woman for sex after contacting her through the internet. Things take a turn for the worse when the trio then find themselves at the mercy of a Westboro Baptist Church style right wing fundamentalist Christian group and are imprisoned in their fortified compound.  Michael Parks is terrifying as the hate fuelled bigot and leader of the 5 Points Church, Abin Cooper.  There is something worryingly believable in his conviction and faith that makes us all too aware of the real power that charismatic “men of god” can have over their flock.

After briefly flirting with the promise of some Hostel style torture porn the film changes tack again as the authorities become involved and a Waco-esque siege situation develops.  It is here that the film really comes into it’s own as a bold and daring piece of cinema.  John Goodman (on blistering form) plays grizzled ATF agent, Joseph Keenan, who is forced to deal with some very difficult orders that throw a harsh spotlight on the American government’s approach to homeland security and the controversial Patriot Act.

Visually Smith also shows a hitherto unseen stylistic vision.  His camera is a restless, prowling and invasive presence at times uncomfortably close to it’s subjects.  At times I found myself wondering if this was not directed by some other Kevin Smith such is the stylistic and thematic shift in this impressive work.

Red State poses some very difficult questions about faith, government and modern American society in general and offers no easy answers.  The final third of the film will leave you reeling and wondering who you are supposed to be rooting for.  This is fierce, angry and questioning cinema of the kind that no one expected Kevin Smith capable of making.  It’s not perfect and it’s certainly not fun but it’s an essential piece of cinema that is guaranteed to polarise audiences.


Troll Hunter (Andre Ovredal, Norway)

I don’t know about you but I’ve always wondered why there weren’t more films featuring trolls.  The troll is a woefully under represented creature in cinema history but you can rest easy as Troll Hunter is here to fulfil all your celluloid troll needs.

Andre Ovredal’s film uses the now over familiar trope of recently discovered home video footage to tell it’s tale of mythical creatures, Norwegian folklore and government cover ups but the story unfolds with such verve, wit and originality that the form of the film works perfectly.

Troll Hunter tells the tale of a group of students making a film about mysterious bear killings in rural Norway.  They begin to follow a particularly enigmatic “rogue” bear hunter and discover there is more to the story than meets the eye.  It turns out that the Norwegian government has been covering up the existence of trolls for years and employ a troll hunter to deal with unruly trolls whose activities (eating sheep and generally destructive behaviour) get too close to the general population.

Weirdly the film seems to have been marketed as a horror which it is not.  Yes it has elements of horror in it but it is essentially a comedy that draws upon folklore and mythology so don’t watch this expecting to be scared out of your wits.  What you will get is a very clever (watch out in particular for a brilliant reference to my own favourite chiidhood fairy tale, “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”), very funny and very well made (the trolls look incredible) low budget sleeper hit that is sure to gain a huge cult following.

Small Town Murder Songs (Ed Gass-Donnelly, Canada)

Ed Gass-Donnelly’s Small Town Murder Songs is a quiet storm of a film.  A powerful and subdued modern gothic tale of crime and redemption set in a small Menonite town in Ontario, Canada.  Walter (Peter “We cut off your Johnson, Lebowski” Stormare) is the police chief with an unspecified violent past who just wants to redeem himself in the eyes of his family, the town and god.  When the body of a young woman is found on the outskirts of town Walter grabs this opportunity to prove he is a changed man by solving the case.

Small Town Murder Songs moves at a stately pace and is driven by Stormare’s incredibly subtle but emotionally complex performance.  The quiet intensity he brings to the film is bewitching and he captures the spirit of a man battling his demons in desperation to make amends for his past.  Jill Hennessy is also excellent as Walter’s ex and possible victim of Walter’s past transgressions.

Small Town Murder Songs has been somewhat lazily compared to the Coen Brothers but I think this film carries far more emotional weight than any of their films.  It has far more in common with the recent wave of rural dramas such as; Winter’s Bone, Shotgun Stories and That Evening Sun.  Films that attempt to show a more honest and realistic depiction of small town life without resorting to cheap and lazy stereotypes.  It is films like this that have produced some of the best work coming out of America in the last few years and whilst this film is resolutely Canadian it fits perfectly into this milieu and is among the finest films I have seen this year.