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.

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