Saturday, 1 October 2011
Red State review (The List, Issue 688)
The film begins with a class teacher in the unspecified titular state decrying the homophobic protests of a local fundamentalist Christian church. We soon see first-hand the horrific practices of this church, led by charismatic pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks, giving a creepily authentic performance), as three teenage boys get more than they bargained for after responding to an internet post seemingly offering no-strings attached sex. Smith refashions the traditional backwoods horror movie with Christian fundamentalists as the monsters, and while subtlety is clearly not on his agenda, this is an effective and scary first half hour, expertly put together and shorn of any of Smith’s usual wisecracking comedy. But the introduction of FBI agent Joe Keenan (John Goodman) signals a distinct change in tone, and Smith abandons horror in favour of an attempt at more nuanced political drama. While his ambition is admirable, Smith’s characters – with the notable exception of Keenan – are unsympathetic caricatures, and feel too much like convenient mouthpieces for the issues he wants to tackle. An inspired and bizarre final twist almost works, until Smith pulls the rug and backtracks for a West Wing-lite philosophising conclusion.
Red State was released on September 30th. This review originally published in The List magazine.