Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reconsidering Kevin Smith: Red State (The Movie)

Over the course of the last couple of years, some friends have mine have spent a whole lot of time and their own money making a movie called “Dead Weight.”

Maybe it’s because it rhymes with “Red State,” but I find that “Weight” and “State” are linked, in some small way, in my mind.

There are a few obvious things that tie them together. Both are horror movies, and both are low-budget, and shot digitally.

Of course, low budget is a relative term as I’ve heard “State” came in somewhere between 2.5 and 4 million dollars, and I’m fairly certain the cost of “Weight” didn’t even make it to five digits.

Both movies were/are being released independent of any studio, with the creators footing the bill and getting the movies into the world on their own dime.

And it’s here, of course, where they part ways again.

My friends have, if I remember it all correctly, a blog, and a Facebook page, and I think that’s it. They might have 100 followers on Facebook, or perhaps as many as 500.

Kevin Smith, on the other hand…

Well, that’s where it gets interesting. Kevin Smith took a DIY approach to “Red State,” right up until he didn’t. He got his venues set up, and he took the film on the road himself. But here, of course, is the rub.

Kevin Smith can charge thousands of people fifty bucks or more to see his movie… as long as it comes with a free Q and A afterwards.

My friends… can’t. It just isn’t going to happen. Even if they booked a local theater, and told every single one of their friends to show up? Their friends aren’t going to cough up fifty bucks to see their movie, or to see them talk about it afterwards.

And after they were done taking their movie on the road? I doubt my buddies would be able to sell their flick to, say, Lionsgate.

I might be wrong about this. In fact, I hope I am. But the fact is, Kevin Smith has a big, fat, fan base now.

And my friends… don’t.

But let’s step away from all that, and go back in time a bit.

A handful of years ago, Kevin Smith announced that his next film would be a horror movie. Obviously, as a guy who usually wrote cheap comedies that did okay in theaters and then cleaned up on video, this was going to be something of a departure.

And then, something interesting happened.

Miramax, the studio that coughed up the cash for the majority of Smith’s previous films, said they weren’t interested.

Smith seemed to move on. He talked about finding alternative financing, but, well, he made “Zack and Miri” and “Clerks II,” and then he started podcasting, and that started making him so money so, you know, I kind of figured “Red State” was not just dead, but super-dead. Along with the “Clerks” cartoon, the “Clerks” cartoon movie, and a smattering of other projects Kevin had worked on over the years, but which never came together.

But no. The money was raised, and Kevin made the movie, and then he decided to release it himself.

You know. Up until they got an actual studio involved, and put it out on DVD in actual stores.

I’ve debated trying to talk about the film without spoiling the ending, and I can, but only to a certain extent. Because what I really think I need to talk about is how the movie does NOT end.

So, be warned, I’m going to have to give some things away here.

For maybe the first half-hour of the film, Smith manages to create a decent horror movie vibe. We get to see the bad people from the bad church, and we meet our three heroes, and credit where credit is due, Kevin doesn’t build much of a plot around them. They’re going somewhere to get some man-on-woman action.

Why gives props for this? Because Kevin seems to understand that most of what Roger Ebert calls “Dead Teenager Movies” revolve around this, but build up a cardboard plot that most audience members don’t really care about.

Of course, it also leaves us with three heroes we don’t care much about, but okay. Moving right along.

The three boys get into a car accident, and the car they hit just happens to belong to the local law enforcement, which is why anyone goes looking for them in the first place. There are subplots there, and Kevin tries to prop them up, make some of the decisions matter, but, well, they just don’t.

And then we get to the surprise (that isn’t a surprise). The whole thing was a trap, and the three teenage boys are going to be killed (sacrificed?) at the evil church, by the evil people.

Smith does his best to drag this out, giving his evil preacher a nice, long, monologue, and letting the boys sweat it out. And I give Kevin credit. His comedies are frequently so loose that he still, after making so many flicks, doesn’t appear able to direct.

But in “Red State,” he seems to know what the genre should look like, and he gives it the correct look and feel.

So bravo for that.

What he does not do, however, is hold onto his horror movie vibe.

Because then the feds get involved, and the movie sort of becomes a siege movie. Or maybe a drama. I have no idea, because after a while whatever plot the movie had goes loose and floppy while Kevin tries to give us multiple storylines and perspectives, none of which add up to much, and all of which appear to be a time-killer until we get to the big finish.

We’ve got the two remaining kids, who try to escape the church, which is located on a compound. But since all we know about them is that they were hoping to get some sweet, sweet action it’s hard to get emotionally invested in them, even after one of them gives a monologue about how now that his friends are dead, he doesn’t really have anything to live for. (Um… really? Nothing at all?)

We get the teenage church member who just wants to get the kids out alive.

We got the head of the Feds, who is, basically, told to kill everyone on the compound, but he doesn’t want to do it.

And we have the evil preacher, who, now that his monologue is done, is kind of at a loss.

And the tension slowly leaks out of the movie.

There are deaths which, unfortunately, close of storylines in ways that felt too quick and easy for me. Yes, I suppose there’s an immediate shock to them, but knowing that most of the people who might suffer emotional damage won’t even have to face it weakened the flick for me.

But then… that ending.

Oh, it’s glorious. There’s a loud trumpet sound, and it crushes the eardrums of everyone. The evil preacher says this is it, it’s the End of Days, and for a minute or two, the movie looks like it’s going to go in a really surprising direction.

And at one point? It really was going to go that way. Long story short, it was really the end times, and our bad guy? It would appear he might have just been the “good” guy all along.

That’s bold, and on many levels, possibly the scariest possible conclusion.

Except, that part doesn’t happen in the finished film. Instead we get a “and then this happened” ending, and the flick comes to a close with the bad guys sort of being punished, kind of.

And the movie, which could have been, if not a great film, then certainly a cult classic in it's own right, instead became one third of a standard horror movie, one third of a drama... and more than likely, something of a footnote, more important for its marketing than its content.

Kevin has said that he’s going to make one more movie, and then get out of the directing game, but I have to say…

I wish Kevin would try making one more horror flick, and I wish he would take it all the way this time.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say that I agree. Now, I think that the first 3/4 of that movie is ptetty tense (of course I get WAY into movies so perhaps its just me) but I think that he does a pretty good job with the schock and awe. And the guy playing the Preacher, well, thats a damn fine job.

    The ending is so, out of left field, that it pretty much knocks the movie down a notch.But I did think that he did get one thing right. He went there. I mean things that you wouldn't think he did, he did. Things you would be shocked by, were pretty shocking. So all in all I liked the movie, and feel that it was a "shocking" movie more then a "horror" movie.

    But when you have made a few million dollars, it allows you to try and do it "your way". But, he can still claim that his 8000 movie was probably the best effort he had.