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A group of teens from the mid-USA receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.
For more about Red State and the Red State Blu-ray release, see Red State Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 20, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Kaylee Anne DeFer, Michael Angarano, Joey Figueroa
Director: Kevin Smith (I)
» See full cast & crew
Red State Blu-ray Review
For the Bible tells him so.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 20, 2011
Kevin Smith, provocateur? No way, right? The sweet natured if motor-mouthed (despite being Silent Bob) Smith, writer-director of films no one could take exception to, films like Clerks or Chasing Amy or Dogma or. . .oh, crap, another brilliant thesis down the drain. Wait, wait!! Cop Out and Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Shoot (so to speak). Okay, here's the real deal: why would anyone be surprised by Smith's shenanigans both with regard to any film he makes or indeed how he chooses to market it afterward? And yet the veritable shinola really hit the fan with Smith's Red State, a film which threw audiences and critics for a major loop with its patently odd blend of horror and ultra-black comedy, not to mention an overweening screed like ambience that skewered church and state in roughly equal proportions. This much is certain: if you're a meat and potatoes, guns and Bible right of center sort of person, it's probably best that you stop reading this review at this very instant, lest your head explode mightily under the weight of Smith's parody of such lunatic fringes as the Westboro Baptist Church (you know, those folks who picket the funerals of everyone from gay folks to our armed forces killed in action). A rather eclectic cast (to say the least) including recent Oscar winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Michael Parks, John Goodman, Stephen Root, Kevin Pollak, Michael Angarano, and Kerry Bishé deliver some hyperbolic performances here that probably won't ever make their audition rolls but which are odd enough to warrant a look-see for those so inclined.
Even Smith's rather rabid fanbase is often split with regard to this film or that film, and the filmmaker himself is on record as understanding that split, mentioning that his oeuvre thus far has been haphazard and not especially consistent (his Sundance speech, included on the Blu-ray as a supplement, has some funny lines about this tendency). But even those who have loved Smith's every move may be dumbfounded by Red State, and more casual fans are almost certainly going to be, for the simple reason that this is unlike any Smith film that has gone before. Innovation is obviously a great thing for a creative artist, but in terms of Red State, the outcome is a decidedly mixed affair. When Smith is fine tuned and on the money, he typically delivers thoughtful and entertaining fare, as well as movies that are frequently very funny. When he's self-involved and self-indulgent, the results are considerably more spotty, and unfortunately Red State bears the imprint of "both" of these Kevin Smiths, leading to a kind of schizophrenic film experience.
Angarano portrays Travis, a typically horny high schooler who agrees to hook up, along with two of his buddies, with an "older woman" who has advertised her sexual wares on a quasi-Craig's List site. What Travis and his friends soon find out is that the woman, Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo), is the daughter of local fire and brimstone preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a group which pickets local funerals of gay people and is out to spread its fire and brimstone message to anyone who will listen. Travis and his friends are drugged and taken captive by the Five Points Church, and awaken to discover that they're about to witness the hideous execution of an unfortunate gay man who has also been captured and has been attached to the church's cross with Saran Wrap. Earlier, on the way to their unconsummated assignation, the boys had sideswiped a car, which turned out to belong to the local Sheriff (Stephen Root), who was in fact involved in a homosexual liaison of his own. Sheriff Wynan gets enough of a look at the car and the boys to get back to his office and tell his Deputy (Matt L. Jones) to go looking for a blue Volvo station wagon. When the Deputy sees the car parked in the church's fenced and locked lot, that sets a chain of events into motion where (perhaps appropriately) all hell breaks loose, ultimately involving a squad of ATF agents led by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman).
The major problem with Red State is it doesn't really seem to know exactly what it wants to be. Is it a scabrous socio-political-religious parody aimed directly at, well, Red State denizens who selectively choose scripture to support their view of the universe but who don't think twice about disobeying little commandments like "Thou shalt not kill"? Yes. Or is it a more straight ahead horror flick where three teens get caught up in a horrifying cult and must struggle to survive at all costs? Yes. And that's the problem. Smith is strangely hyperbolic and restrained (at least for Smith) throughout this film. Red State is probably neither funny enough nor horrifying enough to satisfy purist fans of either of the genres listed above, and so what's left is a sort of squishy middle ground that has elements of both genres but which never fully gels into a cohesive experience.
The best thing about Red State, as it is with so many other Smith films, is the genuinely enjoyable coterie of performances by the very interesting cast. Smith goes on at length (what else is new?) about his long love for Michael Parks, and he gives Parks a showcase role here which is both creepy, weirdly funny, and ultimately very disturbing. Leo isn't far behind, essaying a hateful woman who seems to get off on watching the torment of others. Only Goodman seems slightly out of sorts here, with a bizarre somnambulistic take on his character which seems distinctly at odds with Smith's over the top style.
Red State will no doubt be another major controversy in the career of Smith, and in fact it already has been. As visitors to film chat boards and gossip columns no doubt already know, Smith raised the ire of film cognoscenti when he announced there would be an auction for distribution rights at a screening of Red State, a screening where he ended up announcing he would be distributing the film himself. Was it all a marketing ploy? Or simply the honest admission that he could do it best himself, and that selling the film to someone else was going to be difficult at the very least? Who cares? (Evidently a lot of people, but I digress). Smith is no stranger to self-promotion, but the fact is Red State is so deliberately provocative that it really didn't need this circus sideshow to attract attention to itself.
It's worth noting that despite all of the hoo-hah surrounding both the film and its distribution drama, Smith is oddly tamped down (if typically very talky) in his wrap up of the film's lingering plot points. A relatively long coda featuring Goodman's character getting debriefed after the carnage has ended completely (to borrow a Smith film title) cops out, delivering a rational explanation for an event that could have been a tour de force Deus ex Machina moment a la Dogma. Smith may have in fact been intending a more, well, Biblical finale to his film but as he no doubt discovered, being a provocateur depends on having sufficient funds to do suitable provoking.
Red State Blu-ray, Video Quality
Smith shot Red State with the appropriate Red Camera, so this AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1 is digital perfection, for better or worse. I'm still getting used to the ultra-smooth, quasi-textureless look of Red-shot films, and so any qualms I express should probably be taken with a grain (or a Biblical pillar) of salt. Smith and DP David Klein routinely push contrast throughout Red State, especially in scenes in the compound with light streaming in through windows which provide backlighting, so many scenes have an effulgent glow which tends to rob the image of some fine detail. The film is also deliberately filtered at times with some slight desaturation. A couple of handheld shots were evidently done with a Canon 7D camera, and while there's no huge difference in the look of those sequences, the scene of Angarano desperately trying to escape the compound does have a slightly washed out, gray looking appearance which is notable. On the whole, fine detail, contrast and black levels are all exceptional, with accurate (albeit filtered) colors. Blood reds, for example, tend to display slightly on the rust brown side of things, and some flesh tones are similarly skewed slightly brown- yellow. But this is a solid, pristine transfer that exhibits no artifacting and which, within the confines of a Red image, looks fantastic.
Red State Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Red State boasts one of the most impressive sound designs of any Smith film, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track supplied on this Blu-ray is impressive in every detail. While the film starts off relatively quietly, there's still excellent immersion as Travis and his mother drive by the Five Points protestors on their way to school, and later at the school itself. Once things erupt into Biblical mayhem, however, all bets are off in terms of "quiet" moments, and the film simply explodes with one viscerally exciting sonic moment after another. There are several great scrambles inside the labyrinthine compound when the teens keep trying to escape, and those are filled with fantastic sound effects, including wonderful pans and discrete channelization that really plops the listener down squarely in the middle of a very active soundfield. The frequent gunfire provides ample LFE, and the film's tuba mirum finale also boasts some very impressive low end. Dialogue is always clear and crisp and perfectly prioritized, and it, too, is often very smartly placed directionally. Fidelity is spot on throughout the film and dynamic range is phenomenal.
Red State Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Red State Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I'll be honest: I frankly don't know quite what to make of Red State. While certain aspects struck me as bizarrely funny, and other elements certainly shocked and disturbed me, the film as a whole felt like an uneven mishmash that never was able to congeal (coagulate?) into something cohesive. I was especially struck by how odd the ending is, as if Smith suddenly realized he had no funds and was on his last day of shooting and needed to just wrap things up, pronto. If you're a longtime Smith fan, you still may find aspects of Red State too out there for easy consumption. This is certainly miles away from virtually any other Smith film you could name (although its moral undercurrent is probably closest to Dogma). One thing that can't be argued is the power and precision of most of the performances. The Blu-ray is technically superior, looks and sounds stellar and comes jam packed with (Smith filled) supplements, so within the confines of my reservations detailed above, the Blu-ray itself of Red State comes Recommended, at least for those with a curious frame of mind, not to mention a strong stomach. The film taken in and of itself is a decidedly more questionable affair.
Red State: Other Editions
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Red State Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Red State Blu-ray - August 2, 2011
Lionsgate will bring the controversial thriller Red State to Blu-ray on October 18th. The indie film, which has yet to receive a wide theatrical release, was toured by writer/director Kevin Smith prior to the distribution deal with Lionsgate. A SRP of $29.98 has ...
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