April 4, 2011

Dogma Collapses

Red State is Kevin Smith starting over.

By Robb Witmer Full 

Maybe since Kevin Smith has always been told that he isn't much of a director, he decided to deconstruct his filmmaking to its component parts and build something new.

Smith has dubbed his foray into self-released films "indie 2.0," but the movie itself is a solid piece of independent filmmaking, very much in the "1.0", or maybe "beta 0.5," mode.

Red State in many ways looks just slightly more polished than what I could produce in my garage. I mean that in a good way. The lack of a musical score gives the whole thing a snuff film feel, and there's plenty of nasty shit happening to keep up the mood.

There is an underlying dread in the background of Red State, kind of like the Blair Witch Project, or Texas Chainsaw Massacre... That feeling that we're watching something we shouldn't.

A lot of that is because we're never given a chance to get comfortable in the story. Every five or ten minutes Smith turns the film in a violent new direction, and Joss Whedon's rule of Any Character Can Die At Any Time certainly plays here.

The main thrust of Red State is that there are inherent layers of bull-shit built into any power structure, and when that bull-shit is left unquestioned is when those power structures get dangerous and allow people to get away with horrible, even primitive, acts.

But we're not left with a lot of time to ponder big ideas. And we shouldn't be. The movie's questions don't have any answers. Certainly not answers a movie can provide us. The pace is quick, and at times frantic... Sometimes, after all, the speed of the real world sweeps us up, and leaves us with no decision to make. Occasionally you get shot in the head.

There's not anyone to root for in this movie. The most redeeming characters get killed off early, and even they didn't have a lot going for them. But it's ultimately not a movie about character arcs, or redemption, or even any sort of victory.

Red State is about a culture in decline, clinging to belief systems that are crumbling themselves. It's the most nihilistic movie since Fight Club, and both films are reminders that society and its dogma can collapse under their own weight sometimes.

Robb Witmer Full considers Mallrats a masterpiece, of a sort.