Red State is a film that you will most likely have heard more about its production and marketing than its actual plot, this is because Kevin Smith (the writer/director) staged a fake auction at this years Sundance Film Festival, where he claimed the film would be auctioned off to distributors. However Smith then bought the rights to the film himself, and he was planning on self-distributing the film by taking it on a tour of North America. Smith’s early films were controversial because of their flagrant use of toilet humor and their general crude nature. This has made Smith somewhat of a indie film hero, and the frank way in which he speaks about the film industry has made him more famous/infamous than most of his films. Many have become tired of his constant battles with the industry that has seemingly given him so much, and a backlash of sorts has happened against Smith from both the “professional” critics circle and the film blogging community. But none of that should get in the way of the fact that Red State is almost unrecognizable as a Kevin Smith film.
Red State is inspired by some of the actions of infamous pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, in that its main character Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) heads the far right Five Points Church, who at the start of the film are protesting at a local murdered gay teenagers funeral. The film then focuses on three teenage boys Travis (Michael Angarano), Jared (Kyle Gallner) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) who are planning on travelling to a woman’s house that Travis has spoken to on the internet, for the purposes of them having a four-way. Things do not go exactly to plan and after crashing into a parked car on the way, a car that turns out to be the sheriffs, they decide to not stop but to carry onto their destination where a woman willing to have sex with them awaits. There is no sexual encounter though, and the boys awake to find themselves inside the Five Points Church, where Pastor Abin Cooper is delivering a sermon of epic per portions on how all of society’s ills are to be blamed on homosexuals and other so-called sexual deviants. From here on in things would start to get a little too spoiler heavy so I’m just gonna say things get a little heated when ATF Agent Keenan (John Goodman) shows up.
This film is not a standard horror film, in fact many would argue that its not a horror film at all. What it is is a societal horror film that shows how the extremes of prejudice can hide behind the cover of religion to spew their hate filled views on a world they neither understand or deserve to be a part of. A myth that needs to be broken is that this film is anti religious, its not, its anti extremist.
This is by far Smith’s boldest and most visual film to date, and shows his more thoughtful, mature side. Smith has always stated that he is not a great director, that it’s his writing and characters that are the appeal in his films. I’ve always thought that Smith was being a bit harsh on himself there, I mean he’s no Scorsese, but his films have a clear tone and a style about them beyond his own brand of lyrical humor. This film is easily his best work from a directing point of view, there is scope, a definite colour pallet and an all round grimy visual style to the film. Gone are the cock jokes replaced by a real nastiness and anger that show Smith is capable of stepping outside the View Askew world and into something with more depth. It is obvious a lot of care has gone into this film and Smith seems to be trying to prove that he is a lot better than Cop Out made him look, when he stepped outside of the comfort of familiar characters.
I’ve been saying for years to anybody who will listen that Michael Parks is the most underrated actor possibly of all time, and that it’s a crime he is not recognized as one of the greats, this is because he’s never had that lead role that has made people stand up and take notice, until now. Parks is a force in this film, spewing bile and twisting passages from the bible to suit his wicked point of view, and to justify his extreme actions. Here we have a character and performance that makes the film. All the other actors involved are perfectly fine, with John Goodman as ever switching effortlessly to his more serious side. The only let down is Melissa Leo who on occasions takes the crazy a little too far.
If you’re a fan of Smith’s back catalogue then this may be a shock to the system, and if you’re not a fan of his previous work then don’t let that stop you watching this film. What we have here is a director taking a chance and moving out of comfort zone and possibly surprising himself with how good he can actually be. I’m an unashamed Smith fanboy so it gives me great pleasure to say that you really should watch this film!
Red State is available now on VOD in the US and is released in theaters on the 23rd September in the US and 30th September in the UK.
Anyway peace out suckers! 8/10