Thursday, December 13, 2012
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Red State
In which Kevin Smith pulls the rug out from under his audience’s feet. And then the floorboards. And then the foundations. And then what you were kind of hoping was some semblance of solid ground. ‘Red State’, in short, is a film that sets out to fuck with you.
It fucks with you via its title and the way it’s advertised. ‘Red State’. The DVD cover art shows an attractive young woman clutching a fuck-off big semi-automatic rifle. Hmmmm, political thriller, you might well think. Patty Hearst type shenanigans, mayhap. Something of a change of pace for Smith.
Then you slide the DVD in and the film gets ready for its first rug-pull.
We’re in small town America and three high-school losers are looking to get laid via the internet. Our testosterone-addled triumvirate – Jarod (Kyle Gallner), Travis (Michael Angarano) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) – have hooked up with trailer park milf Sara (Melissa Leo), but when they fetch up at her trailer it’s not the older woman fantasy made flesh that they get but a mickey finn in their beer and they wake up bound and caged and at the mercy of bigoted preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Cooper has some very intractable ideas about sin and how to deal with sinners. Shooting them in the head seems to be a favourite. And he really has a beef about sins involving carnality.
Hmmmmm, you think, torture porn mise en scene ahoy. What we have here is a horror movie that takes some satirical broadsides at fundamentalist Christianity.
At which point another rug pull occurs as ATF agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) and his right hand man ASAC Brooks (Kevin Pollak) enter the picture. Keenan’s politically motivated boss has given the order, following an altercation with local law enforcement officers at Cooper’s compound that leaves a deputy dead, to go in with all guns blazing. And just in case there’s any negative publicity or hesitation over the order, Keenan and his men are instructed to regard Cooper and co. not as First Amendment protected citizens practising their right to freedom of religion but as a dangerous terrorist cell every man jack of whom should be shot on site. And by “every man jack”, that means the women and children who are also gathered at the compound.
Right, got it, you say to yourself. Took a while, but what Smith’s doing here is laying down an early John Carpenter siege movie vibe, making a scathing comment about America’s obsession with gun culture and getting into a debate on post-9/11 political heavy-handedness. You might also, at this point, resign yourself to the fact that Jay and Silent Bob aren’t going to be showing up in this one.
Then … well, whaddaya fuckin’ know … there’s another dang rug-pull. And all of a sudden we’re into some very weird territory. How weird? Imagine the conceptual ending of ‘Breaking the Waves’ spliced into a John Woo stylee shoot-out. Or ‘The Rapture’ if Sam Peckinpah had got hold of the script and decided that what all this metaphysical god-boy stuff needed to kick it up a notch was plenty of spent cartridges.
This particular rug-pull happens a smidgin before the hour mark; and for all that the end credits start rolling at one hour seventeen minutes, the Kevster has a couple more “fuck yous” to narrative consistency and thematic considerations before we get to check out who the head chef or accounting manager were.
In fact, it’s not till those selfsame credits that Smith finally plays his hand. The cast are divided into three camps, dependant on what their character represents: sex, religion or politics. It speaks for itself: as a cross-section of America, if not of humanity in general, most people are motivated by at least one of them. And a hell of a lot of people do some seriously fucking dumbass things as a result.