Tagged in: 5 years too late

Red State (2011)

Kevin Smith skilfully changes direction with a splendid modern horror about a fanatical cult.220px-Red_State_Poster

Rating: ★★★★☆

This review was written 5 years too late

IF YOU’RE looking for Jay or Silent Bob to make one of their customary visits to a Kevin Smith film, you won’t find them here. And probably good for them, for their toilet humour and easy-living ways would not appeal to murderous preacher Pastor Abin Cooper and his cult of Christian extremists. They’d be trussed up in clingfilm and dealt with in no time for their nefarious ways.

And that’s pretty much what happens to Travis, Jared and Billy Ray, a group of teenagers who get drugged after meeting a woman they believed would bed the three of them simultaneously. Waking up in the Five Points Trinity Church of Pastor Cooper, they realise their end is nigh… As Pastor Cooper’s murderous actions draw more attention, ATF Agent Joe Keenan (an excellent John Goodman) is tasked with closing the church down in a very final way, and much against his will. It’s about then that the guns come out on all sides.

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Red State” is a modern day equivalent of “The Wicker Man”, and unlike that film’s dreadful US remake, Smith’s take on victims of extreme religious sacrifice and wacko cults is rooted in a very believable situation, and comes complete with a pleasing nihilism that is tangible today. Add the dark and dubious actions of Goodman’s government puppet masters, and Smith succeeds in blending commentary on both Church and State in an action-thriller context.

Red-State_3Smith shows he has the directorial chops to handle the action compared to his more usual dialogue-rich situation set-pieces. A visceral, visual flair in a number of scenes, especially when the captured teenagers try to escape, delivers thrillingly, and later too, with a lengthy shoot-out that never gets boring.

Michael Parks as Pastor Cooper is outstanding, while Melissa Leo is very unsettling as his devoted daughter.

A dark, nasty, and very enjoyable thriller, that eschews happy endings.

Trailer:

Surrogates (2009)

surrogates_movie_poster1 Body-swap SF thriller with Bruce Willis in a bad wig and Bruce Willis with no hair.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

This review was written 5 years too late

An interesting premise, a bankable lead actor, and a tight 89-minute running time should have made Surrogates better than it is. It’s hard to nail exactly what’s wrong with this film – it doesn’t honk in the way you expect turkeys to, and displays nothing outwardly bad. Yet for some reason, it just doesn’t fly. Which is a pity because there’s the makings of a nifty thriller here.

“Surrogates” takes place in a world where customisable robots take our place in the world while humans direct, feel and design them from comfy Captain Kirk chairs at home. You can make your surrogate look any way you like, and live vicariously through it. So dirty old men have hot female surrogates to get it on with other dirty old men who have hot male surrogates.

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That’s the obvious advantage you have to show in the movies today – got to have the pound of flesh up on the screen – but elsewhere, for example, human cops are safe off of the street while their surrogates do the dangerous work. It’s a neat idea, and efficiently and plausibly explained in the film’s opening.

Brucie is FBI agent Tom Greer, and his surrogate has hair, natch (thatch?!), and a slightly plasticky looking skin, while real Bruce is the man we pay for: grizzled, bald, unshaven. Where everything goes wrong is when some baddies figure a way to destroy the surrogate and its owner at the same time. Tasked with investigating the killings, Greer’s surrogate gets wasted but he manages to survive. Stepping out into the real world for the first time in a long time, he is the human among the non-human.

“Surrogates” then becomes a relatively straightforward mystery that fails to advance beyond its single, repeated surprise – are you human or a surrogate?

Director Jonathan Mostow (“Terminator 3“) makes it all look good, and action sequences with the physically enhanced surrogates leaping and jumping are exciting to watch. Sadly, his writers (Michael Ferris and John Brancato, also “T3”), let him down. If only they’d had surrogates to pen this screenplay… oh shut up you fool.

Trailer