Friday, December 9, 2011

Red State (2011)

Title: Red State (2011)

Director: Kevin Smith

Cast: Michael Parks, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner


In the United States of America, the term ‘Red State’ is used to describe a state whose population leans more towards voting Republican, and in America Republican usually stands for Christian and conservative. Red State is a great title for Kevin Smith’s new film because it deals precisely with people who lean towards the extremely conservative side of things, which is as much of an extreme as extreme liberals. I’m always happiest living my life somewhere in between these two schools of thought; a happy medium where everyone is respected. Ultimately, I don’t lean towards any given group because I don’t like to ‘belong’ to anything and follow anybody but myself. To me we all see the world in our own different ways, and that’s fine. But as Red State helps us see, there are twisted ways of looking at this world. Not everyone believes in ‘live and let live’. Not everyone says ‘let’s co-exist’. Some say ‘kill those that don’t think like us…because the bible says so!’

In Red State we meet a trio of teenagers who are excited because they’ve just hooked up with some chick over the internet who says she wants to have sex with all three of them at the same time. So, off they go on their sexual escapades…too bad for them that it’s all part of a trap being set up by the members of the ‘Five Points Church’ to eradicate homosexuals from their community. You see to the Christians of this film, homosexuals are beasts, sick people with twisted desires. Some church going folks have no problems in expressing their hatred towards homosexuals. Ever seen the members of the ‘Westboro Baptist Church’ holding those “God Hates Fags” signs in their protests? Never mind that the bible teaches people to love your enemy, or love thy neighbor,  that part of the scripture is ignored when gay people come into play. In Red State we meet a group of gay hating Christians who gather the ‘sinners’ and kill them systematically. Will the three sexually adventurous teens escape the religious cult with their lives?

So basically, this is one risky movie for Kevin Smith to make and I applaud him for making it because when you decide to analyze religion and preachers and cults, well, movie studios tend to back away from producing films like that. You know how studios are when it comes to religion and politics, they hate referencing these themes because they know it will alienate a large part of the audience. Filmmakers that try to address these themes (however important they may be to express) always have problems when it comes to getting their ideas produced. Just look at Paul Thomas Anderson, an amazing director, a true talent that makes amazing films, yet the latest film he is trying to get made called ‘The Master’ has faced all kinds of problems. Why? Because it’s about religion, that’s why. With Red State, Kevin Smith wanted to say his bit about religion, he knew he couldn’t spend a lot of money on a film that was presenting an unpopular idea, so he went and made it for a mere 4 million dollars which is loose change when it comes to making a film. But still, a film that’s this ‘in your face’ about exposing the many faults of religion, well, you have to be ready for a bit of a backlash.

These are real people on the above pics by the way. 

And so, same as with Kevin Smith’s Dogma (199) people protested. Most of the protesters came from the churches that felt were being referenced in the film, like the Westboro Baptist Church for example. What they didn’t expect was for Kevin Smith to pull his own comedic counter protest! But this kind of backlash is expected with a film such as this; after all Smith is talking about real events and real people. For example, some of the events that take place in Red State are entirely based on the events that happened in real life with David Koresh and his ‘Branch Davidian’ sect; a sect that masqueraded as servants of God, started to arm themselves with all sorts of guns. In the end, the Branch Davidians ended up going up against the U.S. government themselves. Of course, they lost the battle; a small group of people going up against the all powerful U.S. government is never a good idea. And so, the Davidian church was burned to the ground, with all its followers inside, including women and children. Depending on whom you believe, either they burned themselves down in mass suicide, or the government saw them as too much of a threat to society and burned them all down. After seeing the documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997), I lean towards the idea that it was the government themselves who made this sect disappear because they were deemed too dangerous and out of control. This is basically, the same type of scenario that we see in Smith’s Red State, a showdown between the government, and a crazy cult.

 A similar situation also happened with Jim Jones and his “Peoples Temple”. This guy created his own society as well, with his own rules and regulations. What helped Jim Jones’s cult grow was that he used the bibles teachings to back up his craziness. People saw him as a man of god, because he preached on! He was to lead them to “paradise” so he created his own community where he was king. The result was the death of more than 900 men,  women and children who literally “drank the Kool-Aid” and killed themselves because their religious leader told them to. If you want more information on this terrible story, check out the fascinating documentary called Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple (2006). That documentary is a real experience to watch, I dare you not to cry while watching it. What happened in ‘Jonestown’ is also a similar scenario than the one seen in Red State; a crazed religious leader with a God Complex who decides to build his own society and his own reality. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t appreciate this type of thing very much; especially when you put the life of others in danger because of your beliefs. The point this film is trying to make is, you may believe whatever you want, but when you put the life of innocent people in danger, then your going to get wiped out, because then your going against the law.

Red State reminded me of all these horrifying real life events, but it also felt like Kevin Smith’s answer to Martyrs (2008), an incredible movie that addresses many of the same issues and situations as Red State did. True, Martyrs is a far superior picture, but this is not to put Smith’s film down. In fact I would dare say that Red State is one of Kevin Smith’s best films to date. The dialog and situations actually feel a whole lot more real than any of Smith’s other films, which usually have very wooden and refined dialog; so refined that it doesn’t come off as natural. On Red State everything just flows more naturally and realistically. I have to commend Michael Parks for his portrayal of the religious leader in the film, and kudos to Smith for writing such an amazing dialog for his character, there is a scene where Parks has this incredible monologue that says many truths about religion and the bible. The truths spoken in this dialog simply can’t be denied, by anybody, which is probably what irritates so many people, so much. Smith obviously did his research when it came to writing the script because the dynamics between the religious leader and his group is extremely accurate and realistic. 

Sadly, a film of this nature, a film that’s so truthful about so many things gets flamed because its basically saying that the product of faith are crazy loons like Reverend Abin Cooper and his followers. But the truth is that in many cases, this has been absolutely true. Okay, so not everybody who reads the bible and goes to church will turn into a gun totting crazy person, that’s true. But some do. The real problem is that the bible gives the tools necessary to pull these types of crazy things off, because the bible does teach some truly questionable things! I’ve personally heard Christians say that yes, they would kill their son or daughter if god told them too, just like he told Abraham to. How crazy is that? In the film, Reverend Abin Cooper quotes the bible directly on many occasions, and then says “This is scripture!” and then he repeats it: “This is scripture!” as if to make the point clear, as if saying “I know this sounds extreme, but this is the bible I’m quoting here and don’t you dare defy it!” True, many of the things taught in the bible defy logic and moral, yet unfortunately, since its “the word of god” it gives the perfect excuse to any  loon out there to do them and say they were doing ‘gods will’. Kevin Smith and his new film had the guts to say this, unfortunately, the world is so programmed by religion that they uniformly rejected Smith’s film. Even if it’s a good one. Im not just saying Red State is good because I agree with it’s message, I’m saying its good because it really is. It has some really great tense moments. Its got one twist after another. It’s incredibly engaging. But even though Red State is actually good, the expected barrage of bad press came, and to be honest, the bad press doesn’t even feel truthful or objective; it just feels like they say these bad things about the film simply to get everyone to distance themselves from a film that might help them see religion and the bible differently. Red State ended up being too controversial for even a proper theatrical release; instead it went straight to DVD. Not because it’s a bad movie (because it isn’t) not because it sucks, but because what is saying is deemed too dangerous to air on such a mass medium as movie theaters. This shouldn’t surprise anyone now should it? After all, the truth is rarely popular thing in this world.

Rating:  5 out of 5  


Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one, because I really did too. I really liked the message that some of the worst horrors in human history were committed in the name of religion, and the way Smitb uses some great horror conventions to bring that across is fantastic. The one complaint I've heard people make that I agree with is that they wished it stayed a horror film, and didn't move into the action realm. I liked the action transition, but I can understand that complaint too.

Franco Macabro said...

@Direct to Video Connoisseur: Red State is like a horror film in some areas, like those scenes where they kidnap and kill people, but to me is more horrifying because of the ideas and themes.

Kind of like when I saw the documentary JESUS CAMP, that felt like a horror film for the same reasons. It's kind of scary when you think about the places religion can take people. If you havent seen this documentary, it's highly recommended, no doubt in my mind while your watching it you'll feel like your watching a horror film.

As for the action stuff, well, I guess it was necessary for the story to go down that road. In real life, the WACO incident in TEXAS played out in the same manner. A stand off with guns a blazin for days and days on end. So I guess thats why the film went down that road.

Dan O. said...

Smith is a great writer and director and does a lot of cool things with this premise, but for some reason, it doesn't fully live up to its awesomeness and I just wish that he focused more on this simple plot, rather than trying to give us non-stop sermons. Good review.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey Dan-O, I guess the reason why we have scenes with a lot of dialog in them is because religion by nature is largely about a person, talking and getting ideas and ways of thinking into other peoples heads.

Scenes like the ones where the preacher is hammering all these ideas into his followers are essential if you are to make a film that explores religion.

But I agree with you about it not reaching its peek, this is the reason why I gave it a four, and the reason why I still think Martyrs is a better film.

Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

Wow, great write up on this movie.
I am not really able to put my thoughts in line to write something like that, but i have to agree with what you have written. Maybe I am afraid to analyse a movie too deeply, dunno.Maybe that will improve with time. Enjoyed this very much...

Franco Macabro said...

Hellford667: Glad you liked the review for Red State. I enjoy analyzing films, especially when it comes down to the themes behind them, I love to figure out what a filmmaker is trying to say. I also love it when a film uses a lot of symbolisms.

Red State was a gutsy movie to make, but it's saying some real truths that can't be denied about our 'modern' society.

Thanks for commenting!


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