Kevin Smith’s Red State: A Spoiler-Spattered Non-Review

As part of our anniversary fun times, we pulled up a movie on Netflix to watch. We chose Kevin Smith’s new movie Red State, because Kevin Smith is usually good for a laugh at least, and there’d been all that weird stuff about distribution and how he marketed the film.

Two hours later, I was traumatized right out of any romantic mood and had to watch Captain America as a palate cleanser.

First of all, the interns writing summaries on Netflix are FIRED. “Three high school boys answer an online ad from a woman seeking wild sex and find themselves face-to-face with a threatening supernatural force.”

THAT IS NOT WHAT HAPPENS.

There is nothing supernatural in this movie. I kept waiting for it, as everything got so awful and tense–but nope. This is a straight up Hostel-style horror film. And the thing is, I don’t even know what to say about it. What do you say about a movie that is by almost every metric the best and deepest work Smith has done, but simultaneously has no heart or even thesis, for all it seems to be hitting the RELIGION, IT WILL FUCK YOU button?

Quick ACTUAL summary (spoilers, obviously): three high school boys are lured into four-way sex by a woman online. She talks them into it, even though they’re not totally sure they’re down. When they get to her trailer, they basically don’t even notice that she’s sad as fuck and won’t even look them in the eye. She drugs their beer, they pass out, and wake up in cages in the church of the local Fred Phelps clone. The world’s longest sermon commences–and yet, it’s incredibly tense and upsetting because there are boys in cages everywhere, and a gay man tied to a cross wrapped in saran wrap. They kill the gay man for being gay, in an orgy of awful faith (I suspect one woman actually comes) and then turn on the boys, who insist they aren’t gay. Doesn’t matter, apparently–the church got bored with just persecuting queers and has moved on to entraping middle class white straight minors (big mistake, I contend) into multiple partner sex, which is apparently the new theory on what brought down Sodom and Gomorrah. (Ok…)

At this point, the movie lurches to one side and becomes about the ATF showdown–the G-men don’t actually know the churchies are killing people, they just think they’re hoarding guns. (They are.) Due to the local sheriff (who is a secret gay, in an ugly plot thread) being an idiot and shooting one of the high school boys who was on the verge of escaping, the ATF boys are under orders to kill everyone in the whole place, leaving no witnesses, classifying the Christian cult as domestic terrorists. (No, and no.) What ensues is a long drawn out version of rocks fall, everyone dies. (Not everyone, really. But a lot.)

Then deus ex machina happens. (Still not supernatural!) It is stupid, but not as stupid as the apparent “original” ending wherein the Rapture actually occurs and an angel makes everyone’s hearts explode. This is what happens when we write our shit into a corner, yo.

Ok. So. This was all really upsetting and as tense as any horror flick I’ve ever seen. Hats off for that, and for interesting camera work, which Smith isn’t known for. The acting was pretty phenomenal all around. The writing is straightforward, no Smith tics. It’s a tight, tight movie. And yet. I can’t say it’s good, exactly. How many stars? Apple.

No one in this movie is remotely likeable or even makes a lot of sense. Since it’s clearly a movie striving for realism, I have to take issue with two points. One: I do not believe that a church like Fred Phelps Jr’s there actually does ever get bored with persecuting gays and decides that what would really make their Sunday service is a convoluted plan to convince the aforementioned white, straight, middle class minors (the kind whose disappearance brings down media attention) that a fourway is a great way to lose their virginity and then murder them for that. The boys are virgins and the girl-bait knew that. These guys are more into winning souls for Christ, and those souls were still eminently winnable. It’s just sloppy. Even religious nuts have their own logic, and that logic often extends to boys will be boys when it comes to straight sex. I just didn’t buy it. And four in one night? When it’s clear this isn’t the first time they’ve killed a whole bunch of people? How many people have to go missing in a town so small the local paper “prints once a week” before people start getting seriously freaked out? Where do they put all the bodies? If everyone knows this guy is crazy and bad, then why does no one even suspect them of having anything to do with the deaths of local gays?Given that the church was called “Five Points” and their symbol looks a lot like a pentagram with a cross inside, and because of the DAMN NETFLIX SUMMARY, I figured they’d be devil worshippers or something. No dice.

Also they are just about the most murder happy people EVER. Phelps would be all: guys, calm down a little.

It should have been one queer teen. The body count would have been lower, but it makes loads more sense, and gives us one person to empathize with rather than three boys who look A LOT alike and are hard to tell apart. But I honestly can’t imagine Smith ever having a gay protagonist, and given that the gay sheriff is ignorant, selfish, secretive, on the DL, and easily blackmailed, apparently, by the church, even when he just heard a deputy shot and killed on the radio, into not sending backup, even the gays in this movie about homophobic hate come off MISERABLY BAD.

The other thing is–and it’s pretty hard to trip my “the government isn’t that bad” switch these days–I just don’t believe that the ATF has a kill all witnesses policy. I don’t believe that a Christian church, no matter their crimes (and the ATF didn’t even know about those crimes) will ever be classified as domestic terrorists in this Fox News country. Murderers and/or cultists? Maybe. But even Koresh doesn’t get that moniker. Their fear of media attention makes no sense–guess what WILL get attention? GUNNING DOWN TWENTY-FIVE FAMOUS CHRISTIANS. No matter how small the town. This pastor is famous enough to get national media attention just on his own (several times this is pointed out). Gunning him down will get TONS of attention. Fred Phelps will never get called a terrorist. Nor the people who kill abortion providers. Nor those who murder gay and transgendered people. Nope. Not in this country.

I’d like to believe, actually, that the FBI has a “fuck those people” (actual quote) policy on conservative hate groups. (Not to the extent of killing them, but the idea of putting them in Guantanamo, which is what happens, has SERIOUSLY never crossed a G-man’s mind in the good ol USA) Unfortunately, Virginia, it just isn’t so.

And the end…I don’t even know. It’s dumb, but Actual Rapture would have seemed to side the movie with the religious nuts, and I don’t like that either. It’s so obviously a writer not knowing how to get out of a situation. Much like the awkward 101 exposition of the first school scene. We get no catharsis of seeing the murderers of the boys punished in any way–it’s barely clear the ATF ever finds out that it happened.

Smith apparently felt he was free to not make any substantive cuts after screening, due to the “indie” distribution and lack of studio control. Again, I sadly point out that being left to your own devices with no editors or Other Human Eyes on your work is not always good. Structurally, it’s a total mess and the end is just utterly flaccid and unreal.

I’m left not knowing what the point of the movie was. What was it trying to say? Everyone is terrible and will never stop being terrible? I guess? It seems to want to say something about the danger of overwhelming belief, but also at the same time about the government being the enemy. Those don’t rest too easily together, since the latter is the rallying cry of those very fundamentalists, and it ignores altogether that fundamentalists have enormous power in the government right now, so it’s tough to say the gubmint is the enemy of conservative Christian hate groups. The title would seem to indicate some political stance, but I have no idea what it would be. Everyone is so shitty that I’d be hard pressed to even say who the protagonist is.

Smith movies are usually all heart–a geeky, male, sex-crazy, possibly a little sweaty and over eager and convinced of its own awesomeness heart, a Nice Guy heart, but heart all the same. In his need to be respected as a maker of something other than the slacker oeuvre, he’s made a film that succeeds on almost every level technically, but ironically, fails utterly on a spiritual level. It is horror because it makes you feel horrified. But not much else. It has no core, it has nothing clear to say–or it has a college freshman’s “fuck religion and the government too” general malaise to say. Which I suppose has always been Smith’s stock in trade.

I don’t even know. Did anyone else see it? I want to hear what others thought.

Captain America was actually pretty good, though.

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