Sunday, 26 February 2012

Red State (2011)

Red State is a 2011 American independent action-horror film, written and directed by Kevin Smith, starring Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Stephen Root. The film co-stars Ralph Garman, Kevin Pollak, Kerry Bishé, Haley Ramm, Kevin Alejandro, Anna Gunn, Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano, and Nicholas Braun.

For months, Smith had maintained that the rights to the film would be auctioned off to a distributor at a controversial event to be held after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, but instead Smith purchased the film himself which, according to analysts, "might have been a difficult sale for any distributor." Smith originally planned to self-distribute the picture under the "Smodcast Pictures" banner with a traveling show in select cities, before officially releasing the movie on October 19, 2011. Kevin Smith listed Mel Gibson as his inspiration for how he planned to distribute this movie, citing Gibson's The Passion of the Christ as an example of a successfully self-distributed movie.

On June 28, 2011, Smith announced a one-week run in Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema (making the film and its actors eligible for Academy Award consideration). The film was released via video on demand on September 1, 2011 through Lionsgate, was released in select theaters again for a special one-night only engagement on September 23, 2011 (via Smodcast Pictures), and was released on home video October 18, 2011.

The Plot

Being driven to school by his mother, Travis (Michael Angarano) notices first a fire station siren being removed from its pole and then members of the Five Points Trinity Church, led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) protesting the funeral of a local gay teenager who was found murdered. During Travis' first class, his teacher talks about how Cooper and his church had their town ridiculed for his actions and beliefs. Later, Jared (Kyle Gallner), a friend of Travis, reveals he received an invitation from a woman he met on a sex site for group sex with himself, Travis and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun). They borrow Travis' parent's car and travel out into the country to meet with the woman.

Along the way, they accidentally sideswipe the vehicle of Sheriff Wynan (Stephen Root), while he was engaged in a homosexual affair in his car. Afraid, the boys drive off. Sheriff Wynan returns to the station and tells his deputy Pete (Matt L. Jones) to go and look for the vehicle. Meanwhile, the boys arrive at the trailer of the woman who sent out the invitation, Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo). She encourages them to drink, and after being drugged by the beer, they pass out while undressing. Jared wakes up while being moved in a covered cage. He realizes he is in the sanctuary at Five Points after he identifies Cooper. Cooper begins a long, hate-filled sermon before identifying another captive, a homosexual they lured in through an internet chat room. They bind him to a cross using plastic cling wrap, execute him with a revolver and drop him into a small crawl space where Travis and Billy Ray are bound together.

Cooper then begins binding Jared to the cross, but stops when he notices Pete driving up to the church. Travis and Billy Ray use a protruding bone from the corpse to cut themselves free, which is heard by Caleb (Ralph Garman). He lifts up the trap door just in time to see Billy Ray escape and runs after him. Billy Ray is not able to help Travis out of his tight cling wrap cuffs and leaves him for dead. Caleb chases Billy Ray into a room stocked with weapons, where the two end up shooting each other. Pete hears the gunshots and calls Wynan for back-up, but is shot and killed by Mordechai (James Parks). Cooper then blackmails Wynan, telling him to stay away or he will reveal Wynan's homosexuality to his wife using explicit photos the church has taken of him. In despair, Wynan calls ATF Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), who begins setting up outside of the church.

While the family mourns Caleb, Travis (who had broken free and feigned death alongside Billy Ray's corpse) arms himself and makes a run for it, eventually making it outside where he is shot and killed by Wynan, who mistook him for a member of the congregation. Keenan tries to reason with the family but a shoot-out erupts instead after ATF Special Agent Brooks (Kevin Pollak) is shot in the head. In the midst of the shooting, Agent Keenan receives a call from ATF higher-ups ordering him to start a full raid of the complex to ensure that no witnesses remain of the operation to give details of the events. Another tactical agent named Harry (Kevin Alejandro) struggles with this decision and argues with Keenan in private against doing this. Keenan dismisses Harry's protests for personal reasons, rationalizing his decision based on personal gain and the
reputation of the ATF, and Harry storms off in disgust. During the shoot-out, Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé) escapes and is captured by an ATF agent (Marc Blucas) who is about to shoot her (per orders) but he is instead killed by Cheyenne's mother, Sarah. Cheyenne returns to the house and unbinds Jared, begging him to help her hide the congregation's children. Jared refuses due to the fact that the church had killed both his best friends, and her pleas turn into a fight. Sarah notices them and attacks Jared. Cheyenne tries to break up the fight and accidentally shoots Sarah in the process, killing her. Cheyenne sends the children up into the attic, and Jared changes his mind and decides to help Cheyenne hide the children. They run outside to plead with Keenan to spare the children but are killed by Harry, who has come around to accepting Keenan's rationales, though Keenan is now visibly disturbed by Harry's actions. The shoot-out is then suddenly interrupted when a mysterious loud trumpet blast echos across the sky. The remaining Coopers lower their weapons and run outside rejoicing, claiming that "the Rapture" has come upon them as the trumpet continues to play. Abin calmly approaches a stunned ATF team and confidently taunts them that God's wrath is upon the Earth. He raises his arms and stands in the face of a confused and worried Keenan in a moment of triumph, daring him to defy God as the trumpet blares.

Several days later, during a briefing before high-ranking government officials, Keenan reports that he then head-butted Cooper and took the rest of the congregation into custody. He explains that the trumpet noises were not the Rapture but came from a group of marijuana farmers who lived down the road and were irritated with Cooper. As a prank they rigged up an old fire truck siren to an iPod with loud trumpet noises, unaware of the shootout taking place over the hill. Keenan is promoted despite disobeying a direct order from his superiors at the time to kill everyone at the compound. Keenan is surprised that he is not punished for his insubordinate actions but his superiors explain that their initial decision to kill the members of the congregation was mostly personal and that they are satisfied with the alternative punishment of taking away the prisoners' constitutional rights to due process, locking them up without ever letting them go to trial. They also laugh at the irony that Abin, who views homosexuality as an abomination, will more than likely be raped numerous times by his fellow male inmates. Keenan laments this outcome in a story he shares about a couple of hungry brawling dogs he once knew that taught him about the darker side of human nature and the way simple beliefs can turn humans into bloodthirsty animals.

Abin is finally seen pacing around his cell singing to himself until he hears "Shut the fuck up!" being yelled by another prisoner (voiced by director Kevin Smith).


The review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes reports that reviews of the film have been mixed to positive. The film currently holds an overall approval rating of 58% based on 77 reviews with an average score of 5.9/10. Edward Douglas of Shock Till You Drop panned the movie saying that, "it feels like one of Smith's Twitter rants fleshed out into film with equal portions of bile sprayed at both church and state." Katey Rich of Cinema Blend reporting in her review, "Messy, overwritten, visually stylish, but kind of a bore. More like Kevin Smith than it looks because nobody ever stops talking. And it's not a horror movie by any usual definition. More like teen horror movie morphs into Waco disaster. Melissa Leo overacts, Michael Parks is impressive as Fred Phelps figure but the character's meaning and purpose in the narrative (or lack thereof) is fuzzy." Jordan Hoffman in his review for UGO also panned the film, saying, "Kevin Smith, a wonderful public speaker and genuinely fun guy, has yet to master the basics of movie making." According to Drew Mcweeny of "Motion Captured", "Kevin Smith's 'Red State' fails onscreen and off at its world premiere...A shoddy film and a bait-and-switch event fail to satisfy on any level." Raffi Asdourian of The Film Stage wrote that, "While there are glimpses of Smith's wry humor scattered throughout, Red State can't help but feel like a B action movie that started off with ambitious ideas but collapses under it's own preachy weight... it's clear that the smart alec writer still has some things to learn about making a great film." Matt Goldberg of wrote that, "Red State is a radical departure for Smith and yet he lacks the confidence to properly execute the action-horror-thriller he's devised." James Rocchi writing for indieWire wrote that, "...Smith has gotten as far as he has with his comedies because it is a writer's genre more so than it is a director's. Horror is the genre of a director—pacing, feel, shots, editing—and Smith's skills are not up to the task..."

Amongst the positive reactions to the film, Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called the movie, "A potent cinematic hand grenade tossed to bigots everywhere." Jeff Sneider of said, "The truth is that I didn't really know what to expect from 'Red State,' but regardless, I still had high expectations and am pleased to report that the film lived up to them. It brings something new to the genre, and that something is faith." Germain Lussier of /Film also praised the film, saying, "This is a maturing, confident Smith who proves, after Cop Out, he still has a unique voice. With Red State, that voice isn't saying anything incredibly groundbreaking, and at times it gets a tad preachy, but the director has expanded out of his comfort zone and given audiences a genuine piece of art." Director Richard Kelly also offered his take on the film and Smith while appearing on Smith's SMovieMakers podcast. He said "I have never seen a filmmaker reinvent himself the way you just have. I won't say anything else because I don't want to spoil anything. It's really really exciting…" Smith blogged on his official film website that filmmaker Quentin Tarantino saw the film and gave him positive feedback about it. Former collaborator Ben Affleck also loved the film and is casting Goodman, Parks and Bishe in his upcoming film Argo as a response.

In October 2011, Red State won the Best Motion Picture award at the 2011 Sitges Film Festival, while Michael Parks was named Best Actor. Parks' character, Abin Cooper, received a nomination for Villain Of The Year from the Virgin Media Movie Awards.

The Cast

Michael Angarano as Travis
 Deborah Aquila as Mrs. Vasquez
 Nicholas Braun as Billy-Ray
 Ronnie Connell as Randy
 Kaylee DeFer as Dana
 Joey Figueroa as Route 9 Friend
 Kyle Gallner as Jarod
 Anna Gunn as Travis' Mother
 Matt L. Jones as Deputy Pete
 John Lacy as Travis' Father
  Alexa Nikolas as Jesse
 Stephen Root as Sherrif Wynan
 Betty Aberlin as Abigail
 Kerry Bishé as Cheyenne
 Ralph Garman as Caleb
 Melissa Leo as Sara
 Molly Livingston as Fiona May
 James Parks as Mordechai
 Michael Parks as Abin Cooper
 Haley Ramm as Maggie
 Jennifer Schwalbach Smith as Esther 

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