Monday, 30 January 2012

Southern Films Double Bill

Once again my film rental service has surprised me by sending out a serendipitous match-up of similarly themed - yet tonally contrasting films - in the form of two movies set in Middle America.

Again I watched them back-to-back – here’s what I thought.

First up was Winter’s Bone, written and directed by Debra Granik – which follows the story of an Ozark Mountain girl searching for her father in order to prevent her family’s eviction.

Amidst scenes of struggling with poverty, caring for her ill mother and two younger siblings – we also see her do a bit of amateur sleuthing and poking around in parts of the tight-knit community she shouldn't - which be inevitably leads to trouble.

A breakout role for Jennifer Lawrence – who has since gone on to roles in The Beaver and X-Men: First Class, and its not hard to see why, as here she is utterly convincing in the role and great to watch. John Hawkes is also a standout, as her unpredictable uncle ‘Teardrop’.

Whilst the film boasts good production design and beautiful photography – especially of landscapes and the harsh surrounding wilderness - the story unfortunately doesn't fully deliver. Despite being touted as a ‘redneck-noir’, the suspense built up doesn't seem to have a satisfactory payoff, and some viewers will be disappointed by the ambiguous and low-key ending.

Directly contrasting to this sombre and realistic flick we have Kevin Smith’s latest film, Red State. Also a genre mashup, this film veers from horror movie beginnings to siege movie, with a few dialogue-heavy trademark Smith scenes thrown in for good measure.

The story involves the kidnap of three teens by an evangelical cult and after a suspenseful and slow first half, the action of the siege in the second half is a direct contrast. Whilst some will not enjoy the messy plot and inconsistent pacing, there aren’t really many films like this out there; Kevin Smith fans especially will be surprised at how different this is from his previous works.

Red State is likely to divide audiences down the middle with this raw and uncompromising picture which contains some genuine surprises in the story that upsets many genre conventions.

A special mention - Michael Parks provides an electrifying performance in this film as the main antagonist Pastor Abin Cooper. One scene in particular (love it or hate it) where he delivers a ten minute sermon - is both terrifying and yet utterly compelling to watch. Rather than him ranting abnoxiously like you would expect, it's the understated normalcy of it all that is truly scary.

Of course, many will bring up the religious and political commentaries that the film offers – but really these are largely inconsequential to its enjoyment.

So if you are hankering for some films chock full of southern accents, check out these two. For a slower paced atmospheric mood piece go for Winter’s Bone – for a more shocking b-movie type feel go for Red State.

30 Jan 2012

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