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Kevin Smith
John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Michael Parks, Stephen Root
Writing Credits:
Kevin Smith

Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $9.99
Release Date: 10/18/2011

• “The Making of Red State” Documentary
• 7 “Smodcast” Commentaries
• 3 Deleted Scenes
• “The Sundance Speech”
• “A Conversation With Michael Parks”
• Poster Gallery
• Previews and Trailers


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Red State [Blu-Ray] (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 30, 2019)

After a bad experience as “director for hire” with 2010’s Cop Out, Kevin Smith returned to self-written films in 2011, though with a twist. While the title might imply a wacky comedy about conservatives, 2011’s Red State instead gives us a dark tale with horror overtones.

High school student Jarod (Kyle Gallner) solicits an online sexual invitation from Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo), a woman in her late thirties. She requires that he bring friends, though, so Jarod recruits buddies Travis (Michael Angarano) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun).

After they arrive at Sarah’s place, she gives them drug-laced beer that renders them unconscious. When the teens awaken, they find themselves prisoners of Fundamentalist Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) and slated for sacrifice. We follow their attempts to survive as well as an assault on the church’s compound by the ATF.

If you look at the publicity for Red State, you may see it referred to as a satire, but that doesn’t prove to be true. As I indicated earlier, the film strays from Smith’s usual MO, which means that it includes some comedic moments but it usually focuses on its horror/dramatic orientation.

I suspect the implications of satire come from parallels between the movie’s Cooper clan and the real world’s Phelps family. Like State’s Abin Cooper, Fred Phelps leads a related group of Fundamentalist nutbags, and under the banner of the “Westboro Baptist Church”, they behave in similar ways – mainly due to their profane picketing of funerals.

The fact Smith obviously based the Coopers off of the Phelps clan led some to figure State would be a goofy parody of Westboro Baptist, but that doesn’t occur. Smith treats the Coopers as scary and malevolent, so he doesn’t imbue them with a comedic vibe.

Throw in a second half of the film that calls back to the 1993 Branch Davidian conflict and you get the impression Smith wanted to wear his religious cult influences on his sleeve. That’s fine, as those groups seem ripe for exploration, but Red State never manages to use these organizations as much more than window dressing.

Though best regarded as a writer, Smith doesn’t really show much facility with plotting. He made his bones on entertaining characters and witty dialogue, which worked fine with loosely-knit movies like Clerks or Chasing Amy. Those focused much more on character interactions than actual narratives, so Smith’s strengths came to the fore.

In Red State, however, the plot becomes much more important, and we can see how much Smith struggles with that domain. Actually, the basic tale of State moves along in a coherent enough manner, but Smith lacks the visual chops to depict the narrative in a fluid manner.

This means State tends to tell when it should show. Smith saddles the movie with an awful lot of clumsy exposition, as he can’t figure out smooth or natural ways to convey backstory. These moments lack nuance, so we get ham-fisted plot/character material that slows the pace to a crawl.

Smith also fails to move the film along even after he gets all that exposition out of the way. In particular, one scene in which Abin Cooper preaches at the pulpit goes on for-freaking-ever.

As you’ll discover if you screen the Blu-ray’s supplements, Smith boasts a serious man-crush on actor Michael Parks. If one theme pervades these bonus features, it’s that Smith thinks Parks is super-awesome.

I can’t help but feel that this adoration impacted Smith’s ability to judge what scenes the movie needed and which it didn’t. To be fair, the set’s extras also show that Smith did edit out some of Parks’ work – indeed, the original cut of the sermon went on even longer.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t excuse the tedium that the film portrays, and I still feel some of the slowness comes from Smith’s admiration for Parks. The too-long sermon scene would work infinitely better at one-third the length – as it stands, it turns a movie that already suffers from lackluster pacing into an endurance test.

Perhaps I’d forgive the excessive length of the sermon if Smith boasted talent for the sort of dialogue on display, but I don’t think he can handle this kind of material. Smith is very good at glib comedic lines, and he can handle romance and some emotion pretty well, too, but the kind of hellfire and damnation nuttiness Cooper spouts remains outside of his purview.

State does provide a good cast, and they do fairly well. Parks works nicely as Cooper, largely because he avoids the urge to overplay the part. His Abin becomes scary because he stays calm and provides the unnerving confidence of the “true believer” – we know he’s nuts but he subscribes to every insane word he says.

Others seem fine, too, mainly because they follow suit. The actors resist the tendency to chew scenery, so they add some realism to the affair.

Unfortunately, they do so in a lackluster story. Red State might’ve been a scary tale if someone with the ability to invest in that genre made it. While I respect Kevin Smith’s desire to branch out into new cinematic domains, Red State doesn’t really work.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

Red State appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie offered a pretty strong transfer.

Overall definition seemed positive. A smidgen of softness hit some wider shots, but most of the movie showed nice delineation.

I witnessed no issued with shimmering or jagged edges, and edge haloes remained absent. No print flaws cropped up along the way.

Like virtually all modern horror tales, State opted for a stylized palette. It tended toward a low-key, semi-desaturated vibe that emphasized a chilly feel. The hues worked fine for the material.

Blacks seemed dark, while shadows showed positive clarity. This became a quality presentation.

Similar thoughts greeted the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. It went for a fairly atmospheric air, as the mix gave us logical accompaniment for the creepy visuals.

This meant music popped up around the room and became somewhat dominant while effects remained mostly in the environmental realm. Violent scenes – especially those with guns – used the five channels in an active manner, though, and those added pizzazz to the proceedings.

Audio quality was good. Dialogue appeared natural and concise, while music showed nice range and impact.

Effects boasted positive punch and dimensionality, with deep low-end when necessary. Though not a killer mix, the audio fit the story.

A two-part documentary called The Making of Red State runs 43 minutes, 50 seconds and includes notes from writer/director Kevin Smith, and actors John Goodman, James Parks, Stephen Root, Ralph Garman, Michael Angarano, Kerry Bishe, Kyle Gallner, Michael Parks and Melissa Leo.

The program discusses the film’s origins and development, story/characters, cast and performances, financing issues, cinematography, stunts and action, and the movie’s release.

Parts of the documentary work well, especially when we see how the Westboro Baptist folks responded to the film. However, an awful lot of praise and happy talk comes along for the ride, and those moments cause it to drag at times. There’s still enough to make the show worth a look, but it’s not a great program.

Instead of a standard audio commentary, the disc provides seven Smodcasts. That’s Smith’s name for his podcasts, and we locate these tracks: “Hear the Teaser” (41:10), “The Harvey Boys” (27:39), “Splinter of the Klein’s Eye” (37:06), “Caster Master” (1:04:03), “Canado!” (1:10:55), “Brains & Braun” (52:35), and “Parks City” (1:28:00).

Here’s who we get in the “Smodcasts” and what they discuss:

“Teaser”: Kevin Smith shows the film’s initial trailer and answers audience questions that touch on cinematography, cast and performances and other areas.

“Harvey”: Producer Jon Gordon talks with Smith about working at Miramax and aspects of the Red State shoot, though studio-related topics dominate.

“Splinter”: Smith and director of photography Dave Klein discuss their longtime relationship as well as the look of Red State.

“Caster”: Smith chats with casting director Deb Aquila about her career and elements of her job.

“Canado!”: Smith brings in first assistant director Adam Druxman to go over what an AD does as well as Druxman’s career and his work on Red State.

“Brains”: Along with Smith, actor Nicholas Braun chats about his career and aspects of his Red State character and performance.

“City”: Smith brings in actor Michael Parks to examine the actor’s long career and his efforts on Red State.

That’s a whole lot of content, and we learn a ton about State and connected areas along the way. Of course, the casts vary in quality, but overall, they work well.

Note that the seven “Smodcasts” here offer a sample of what Smith and company created to discuss the film. If you visit Smith’s website, you’ll find additional “Smodcasts” with other members of the Red State cast and crew.

Three Deleted Scenes appear. We see “Abin Cooper’s Full Sermon” (15:55, with 2:16 Kevin Smith intro), “’Touchdown’ Scene” (2:23, with 1:14 intro) and “Original Sundance Ending” (6:41, with 2:33 intro). Given that the “Sermon” runs way too long in the final cut, the “Full” version doesn’t become more satisfying.

“Touchdown” just adds a short tag to an existing sequence, so it also fails to bring much. “Sundance” also extends a segment, as it brings more to the movie’s finale. Because it runs under the end credits, it works acceptably well, but I prefer the snappier finish to the release cut.

The Sundance Speech lasts 35 minutes, 36 seconds and provides Smith’s presentation at the film festival. The first 9:36 offers another intro, as Smith tells us about the Sundance appearance.

After that, we see Smith’s presentation at the 2011 festival, one that apparently became notorious for the way he ripped apart the studio system. He makes some good points, though he doesn’t seem to understand that a studio-free distribution pattern would work less well for filmmakers who lack his rabid fan base.

Next comes A Conversation with Michael Parks. In this 17-minute, 58-second reel, we get another intro from Smith before Parks discusses how he came to the movie, his character and performance, aspects of the shoot and reflections on the film. Though not the most focused chat, Parks presents some interesting thoughts.

A Poster Gallery presents nine images. Along with an intro from Smith (3:07), this becomes a nice look at the film’s marketing.

The disc opens with ads for Religulous, Kick-Ass, Warrior, Conan the Barbarian (2011), Psychoville and Reservoir Dogs. We also get two trailers for Red State - those come with an intro from Smith as well.

A detour from his usual comedies, Kevin Smith’s Red State allows the filmmaker to flex muscles in the horror and drama genres. Unfortunately, it doesn’t imply that Smith boasts much talent in those realms, as the movie never coalesces into a particularly compelling tale. The Blu-ray delivers pretty strong picture and audio along with an extensive compilation of bonus features. I think it’s cool that Smith broadened his horizons, but Red State just doesn’t come together in a satisfying manner.

Viewer Film Ratings: -- Stars Number of Votes: 0
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