Now here’s a treat! Famed Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar, primarily known for family melodrama and highly charged sexual encounters, dipped his toes into the sea of genre cinema here with his usual fare mixed with body horror and third act twists. All of which brought a very welcome change to a formula that, with his previous entry Broken Embraces, had been getting stale.
Antonio Banderas plays a doctor who is experimenting in creating synthetic skin to treat burn victims and other such unfortunate souls. He happens to keep a mysterious woman, played by Elena Anaya, in his home. She seems to both want to escape but also be with him, something he can’t bring himself to commit to. The added presence of his housekeeper and her loose cannon son add unpredictability to a plot which flashes back to reveal some shocking truths which, in many other films would be played for simply the “how fucked up is THAT” angle but instead is given a great deal of emotional heft – causing you to question just who your loyalties are with. Banderas is typically cracking as the doctor, who goes to incredibly extreme ends to satisfy himself, but the standout here is Anaya, who frankly looks like a young Penelope Cruz which undoubtedly appeals to the director. She has an enigmatic nature which, along with her fighting spirit, creates a memorable character and not just because of the machinations of the plot.
The film isn’t perfect, at around two hours it’s a bit too long and the melodrama aspects at times fit a little awkwardly but it’s refreshing and reassuring cinema for an auteur who shows he can turn his hand to more than you expect and get effective results from it.
Just when all hope was thought lost, Kevin Smith went and made a film which, while not perfect by any stretch, showed that he can do more than elaborate dick jokes. The story straddles many genres from teen sex comedy to horror and then to a siege movie as a bunch of kids think they’re about to have sex but find themselves abducted by a cult group led by Michael Parks and Melissa Leo. John Goodman leads the fight against them but things start to get weird and the hand of God may well have plans for the factions too.
The key success of the film is really down to Michael Parks, an actor who has popped up in many memorable roles but has never felt like a “star”, something which proved to be a good combination for Smith. He is an incredibly strong presence as the cult leader who also isn’t someone who you’d be distracted by. He has a ferocity and strength in conviction which takes him away from the land of just being a cartoon character into someone who feels like a legitimate threat.
Red State also benefits from some of the more visually impressive work of Smith’s career, working with long time DP David Klein, he presents a washed out and muted world which only really comes alive with the colour of blood. There’s also a standout foot chase sequence about halfway through, all done in what looks to be one shot and pretty striking for it.
There are problems, the ending cops out in a way which feels pretty insulting and Smith’s baser impulses for gross-out are still in here in moments but it’s the first film in years which makes me think the man with the most annoying mouth in filmmaking may actually still have something to contribute aside from vitriol.