Halloween Scene: Red State (2011)

I’m a Kevin Smith fan, which I’ve written about before on UnitedMonkee. In addition to his flicks, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to and enjoying the podcasts on his Smodcast network. As such, I’ve been hearing a lot about Red State over the past few years. In brief, Smith wrote the movie around the same time as Zack and Miri Make A Porno, but the Weinsteins wouldn’t go for it. He went on to make Zack & Miri, then directed his first bigger budget flick, Cop Out, which didn’t live up to expectations. Eventually after some airline incidents and the introduction of copious amounts of weed into his system, the writer/director decided to get private funding and make the movie himself for a few million bucks. He then decided to distribute the film himself after a goofy stunt at a film festival, took the movie on tour and just this week released the movie wide on DVD, VOD and whatnot. Overall, I think it’s a pretty amazing way to go about making flicks and getting them out there. Of course, it won’t work for just anyone as Smith has just under 2 million followers on Twitter thanks to amassing an audience for so many years. Still, I think it’s the wave of the future, people just making movies, you know? The whole thing is kind of inspiring and makes me want to dig my woods-based slasher script out of a pile and start filming. But, I digress.

I was excited when I heard via Twitter that Red State would be on Netflix Instant starting yesterday (I watched it yesterday, just didn’t get around to blogging about it). I knew going in–from hearing Smith talk on his various podcasts, including Red State Of The Union, which documented the film’s production with interviews galore–that it was about three kids trying to get laid and running afoul of a group of religious extremists. Some bad stuff happens to them and then John Goodman comes in at the end. That’s about it. If you haven’t seen the movie, it might be best to go in with just those thoughts, I’ll be getting into SPOILER territory soon.

The movie starts out very Smithian with lots of dialogue and exposition, but I thought it was handled pretty well, even if the idea of the dumb girl in class not knowing about the religious extremists who live a half hour away is very unlikely. I really enjoyed the performances by the three young male leads (Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun and Michale Angarano) even though their desperate and gross Porky’s 2-like plan to get laid by the same old lady in a trailer reeks of awful desperation. Shit hits the fan pretty early on after that and the spotlight gets less stolen and more absorbed by Michael Parks who plays the charismatic, yet bigoted (and evil) preacher of this extremist group. There’s this sermon scene that would seem incredibly dry on paper, but the dude just demands that you watch and listen to him, even if he’s spouting off the most hateful shit imaginable. There’s a build-up to the awfulness that almost makes you think he might not be such a bad guy, then you remember there’s kids being held captive.

Let’s call the rest of this SPOILER TERRITORY until the  last paragraph. I watched the review of this movie on The Totally Rad Show and one of the guys mentioned something that I felt while watching: it really plays up on the fear of being publicly denigrated with no one reaching out to help you. It’s something that I think Wicker Man was going for, but didn’t really achieve (for me at least). Between the dude in the cage, the guy on the cross and the two boys trapped in the underground hatch, there’s all kinds of that going on. I also liked how one of the boys completely abandons his friend when he realizes he’s got a chance to escape. You already know that these three boys aren’t the most upstanding of citizens, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but is still a realistic moment that a lot of horror flicks either don’t attempt or don’t succeed at.

And then there’s the John Goodman stuff. I love that guy and he kills in this movie as a DEA agent sent out to check out the reports of gun possession at the group’s compound. From listening to the podcasts, I had thought this would happen in the last 10 or so minutes of the movie, but it actually takes up the last third as things turn into a moral drama with lots of gunplay. I liked that my assumptions about the movie were wrong and that I could still be surprised after hearing so much about it. And then you’ve got the just-before-the-end part where Parks thinks he’s hearing a sign that God is actually on his side but we later find out was just some kids playing a joke. I’m not sure how I feel about it. It reminds me of this arc in the Daredevil comics where Matt Murdock is on trial and then some guy who happened to have dressed up as DD swoops into the courtroom. It was a little to happenstancial then and that’s how I felt this time around. The timing is just too good, even if there was a reason for the joke to be played.

Okay, we’re out of the spoiler danger zone. I think any horror or thriller fan would dig this movie, even if they’re not fans of Smith’s, though you will have to be okay with some pretty intense scenes and the common-for-Kevin slathering of profanity and sex talk. These things don’t bother me, but I figure there should be some fair warning. It really is a taught, intriguing and scary flick that’s so set in the real world that it makes it even more spooky. Zealots, man, they’re just too much.

Halloween Scene: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

I was pretty excited for Jennifer’s Body, but it had nothing to do with plot or acting or story or the fact that it was written by Juno’s Diablo Cody (I thought Juno was mostly boring and kind of ridiculous when it came to dialogue), but because I’ve always had a thing for Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox is crazy hot. Oddly enough, it’s the leads’ star power that kind of derails the movie’s sleaze (just to let you guys know ahead of time, there is sex in the movie, but no nudity, which kind of deflates it a bit).

Anyway, the story’s about Fox (Jennifer) getting turned into a succubus by a band with Adam Brody in it. They’re trying to make a sacrifice to become gigantic rock stars, but it turned out that Jennifer wasn’t actually a virgin when they sacrificed her so she turned into the succubus (which kind of eats human life/blood to stay hot and healthy looking). Her best friend Seyfried sticks by her, but turns into the story’s hero as she figures things out.

I can’t really place my finger on it, but this movie just seemed kind of whatever. Maybe it’s because a lot of the gore was shown off camera (what’s the point if you’ve already got an R?). Maybe because of unbelievable/sketchy plot points like Seyfried learning all about succubi from the local library (does Giles run it?) or even the fact that Seyfried and Fox are friends. She says its because they’ve known each other forever, but I just didn’t buy it. Why would the ultra hot and popular Jennifer want to hang out with the nerdy girl? Why would the nerdy girl put up with her abuse? Maybe it’s because I don’t still have friends from when I was very young anymore, but that “well, we’ve known each other forever” thing doesn’t hold water with me once you hit high school.

I will say that there are some good lines. I liked the dialogue in this one way better than Juno because it didn’t seem as in your face or mile a minute or all over the place. I also liked Johnny Simmons as Seyfried’s boyfriend, JK Simmons as a hook handed teacher (I didn’t notice it at first and unfortunately it has NO pay off throughout the film) and Amy Sedaris as Seyfried’s alcoholic (I think) mother. It was cool seeing her especially play outside her normal wheelhouse.

All in all, it wasn’t a terrible movie, but it didn’t really do much for me as a story, which is too bad because there’s such a dearth of original non-remake, non-sequel horror movies coming out. This one clearly got made on the strength of Cody’s name and a solid cast, but I think it’s wobbliness says more about why the movie didn’t do super well than why new horror movies shouldn’t get made. There have got to be better horror scripts floating around just waiting for some new studio looking to make some bucks can put some money behind. Hell, I’ve got a nice little slasher script I bet could be made for short money if anyone’s interested.