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  Red State What The Hell?
Year: 2011
Director: Kevin Smith
Stars: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Kerry Bishé, Ralph Garman, James Parks, Stephen Root, Nicholas Braun, Ronnie Connell, Kevin Pollak, Anna Gunn, Kevin Alejandro, Patrick Fischler, Kyle Gallner, Jennifer Swalbach, Mark Blucas
Genre: Horror, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Travis (Michael Angarano) is late for school, but he has an excuse which is that there was a protest by a far right Christian group which slowed down his journey as his mother was driving him. He explains this to his teacher, who gets sidetracked from her lesson about the Constitution and starts warning her pupils off any involvement with religious fanatics, but Travis isn't really listening, for he has plans for that evening with his friends. The meet up at break and go to a website where women are offering their bodies and settle on one individual not a million miles away...

All the clues are there that this will be the worst decision of their lives, for what other reason could there be for introducing religious nutcases so early on in the film, but in spite of that there could be those in the audience caught off guard by the directions Red State took, especially if they thought they knew the typical oeuvre of writer and director Kevin Smith. Where his speciality had been ribald, plain-speaking but inventively rude comedies before, with this he changed his tune, and by going on the publicity trail to announce he was distributing this himself be created some amount of grumbling among those who thought he had ideas above his station.

Yet granted this was quite some departure from the norm, there were signs that it was indeed Smith who had been behind the camera, not simply the odd smartass line which the narrative refused to dwell upon, but other themes as well. One of his previous films had been Dogma, a Christian comedy which attempted to mine humour from an impending apocalypse, and there were echoes of that here, as the chief plot strand concerned itself with religion as well, although with far less welcoming considerations. Make no mistake, Smith was a religious man, but it was evident here one thing he detested was seeing his faith perverted by hate, and that translated into an anything goes, everyone suffers mood of oppressive menace.

The tiny church led by Abin Cooper (an exceptionally creepy Michael Parks) was obviously based on another, real life tiny church who gathered an out of proportion number of headlines for their message of hostility and malice towards anyone who did not accept their own insanely narrow reading of the Bible, and this had gotten Smith's dander up, so in a way Red State was a try at tackling those like them who used their ultra-conservative views to excuse the viler aspects of their worldview. Make no mistake, this was an angry film, and although Smith had shown he could get pissed off in public before, that was with critics accusing him of squandering his talents on unworthy efforts such as Cop Out.

Here, on the other hand, was a target which made far more impact than movie critics ever would, and it was as if the director had gone out of his way to make this was spiky and hard to get on with as possible, with nobody emerging from it well, particularly not the church but also not the government who fumble any attempts to soothe the situation and halfway through turn the crisis into a Waco-style seige, with bullets flying and bodies piling up as equally effective John Goodman in the G-Man role flounders. With its in your face approach, Smith's film was determined to mess with the audience, switching from coarse teen comedy to horror to thriller to outright action flick dynamics, but it was the excoriating nature of its politics which sought to take down the reprehensible bigotry blighting society. The result? Smith's best movie in years, one which moved beyond his usual talkfests - though Parks got his own spellbindingly ghastly monologue lasting a good ten minutes - to present not only food for thought, but a genuine zest for demolishing the issues. Be nice to each other - or else we're all headed straight to hell, was the timely message.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Kevin Smith  (1970 - )

American writer-director, by turns self-indulgent and hilarious. His first film Clerks brought him cult success, but he followed it with the big studio flop Mallrats. Chasing Amy was a return to form, and Dogma courted religious controversy. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was a tribute to the double act who appeared in every one of his films up until then (Silent Bob was played by Smith himself). Jersey Girl was a conventional romantic comedy that disappointed most of his fans.

Smith is also a writer of comic books, both established characters (Daredevil, Green Arrow) and his own creations. An attempt to turn Clerks into a cartoon series was a failure - but it was damn funny all the same. Fans of the characters could console themselves with the sequel Clerks II. He then offered sex comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno to mixed reviews, and Cop Out to downright terrible ones which led him to much public complaining. Self-proclaimed horror movie Red State, however, won him some of the best reactions of his career, though audiences were fewer in number.

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