Kevin Smith outdoes himself with Red State, a film that has to be seen to be believed. The rumours about Smith’s horror flick have been floating around for almost a decade, and it’s great to see that he eventually got around to making it. Thing is, it’s not just a horror movie.
Don’t get me wrong: for the first half hour we are definitely in horror territory. After setting up the premise, whereby some teenagers decide to hook up with an older woman for some group sex in a trailer somewhere in middle America, things go from bad to worse pretty quickly. They live in a town that boasts the Five Points Church, a radical right-wing Christian denomination that pickets funerals of gays, so our hapless teens shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the church offers a little more than your average prayer meetings.
But then, just when you’re sure you’ve got Red State pegged down, the movie abruptly shifts in tone and direction. I was completed floored by this film, and genuinely had no idea where it was going. What initially seems to be a horror flick exploiting the American far right loony fringe could actually be seen as a critique of America in general, focussing on sex, religion and politics.
I consider myself a big fan of Smith’s, even if the quality of his output varies significantly. But even I had put him in a box; I was certain I knew what he was capable of and what his limitations were. Red State has completely blown such notions out of the water. What I see now is a filmmaker that could basically do anything, if he turned his mind to it. In Red State, he effortlessly writes, directs and edits horror, action and comedy in what could arguably be considered an ‘art house’ flick.
We also have a film with a conscious visual style, something that Smith’s never done. He himself has made jokes about how, stylistically, his films haven’t changed much since Clerks, but Red State is shot beautifully, with a distinct sense of menace. This is the first film he’s done without Scott Mosier (if you don’t count the gun-for-hire duties he did on Cop Out), and this also underlines the fact that this is Smith as we’ve never seen him before.
Michael Parks gives an extraordinary performance as the sinister head of the Five Points Church, Abin Cooper, and whilst the actions of his brethren may seem somewhat far-fetched, his rhetoric isn’t all that distinct from what I’ve heard coming from some notches in the Bible Belt. John Goodman plays the ATF agent investigating Cooper’s group, and excels in a role that differs greatly from that which he has done before. There are many, many other great performances from the likes of Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Marc Blucas, Kevin Alejandro, Melissa Leo and Kerry Bishé. Every character’s appearance, no matter how fleeting, is completely distinctive and memorable.
Red State is a fascinatingly original film and completely awe-inspiring. Smith has threatened to leave directing behind after his next project, Hit Somebody, but I truly hope he reconsiders. Red State is likely to be divisive, and it may have trouble finding an audience. Those who love his previous comedies may be dumbfounded, whilst those who would genuinely enjoy this film may skip it because of that same earlier work. Those expecting a straight horror film may be disappointed, whilst those who want to watch a biting social commentary may be daunted by the rather nasty first half hour. But that’s part of the brilliance of this film: it has no interest in giving the audience what it wants. It’s simply a fantastic, bold and unique film in its own right.
Hats off to Mr Smith.Rating: