By Brett Mullins
Written and Directed by Kevin Smith
Before we get to the review, let me make a few points clear. I am a huge Kevin Smith fan. The Clerks series of films are some of the greatest comedies ever produced. Smith’s abilities to act and direct in the same film are quite remarkable. With this being said, Red State defied nearly all of my presumptions and presented a film that was physically brutal and thought provoking.
Three southern teenager respond to an ad for a mature woman looking for sex. They embark on the half hour drive to her house and are subsequently drugged and kidnapped by members of an ultra-religious church. The church is analogous to the Westboro Baptist Church; however, Smith is careful to make the distinction between the two (for several reasons) by mentioning the church’s leader, Fred Phelps, by name.
This film’s cast was phenomenal all around. John Goodman and Michael Parks stood out as some of the better cast roles in recent years. Goodman plays ATF Agent Joseph Keenan, a man whose ethics conflict with his sense of duty. Parks portrays the strong faithed Abin Cooper, the leader of the fundamentalist church. It is quite chilling to watch as Cooper delivers his sermon and rationalizes the torture and murder of homosexuals and other sinners. This is quite effective on the audience, because there are religious groups which subscribe to this general way of thinking.
The sermon lasts several minutes and sets the stage for Smith to illustrate how situational our morals are. Throughout the film, with each set of characters, we move between deploring their actions, feeling sorry for them and ultimately rooting for their survival, in no particular order mind you. This is consistent with the three boys, Cooper’s church and Keenan’s ATF unit.
This film is visually stunning, especially if you consider the lo-fi, indie look to many of Smith’s earlier films. I use the term ‘stunning’ in two regards: the film begins consistent with the average raunchy comedy and quickly becomes a fast paced horror film, and the brutal nature of the film is quite unexpected and is far from the gore horror genre.
Red State is clearly a cross genre film that would be best described as an action horror with dark comedic elements (it is Kevin Smith of course). If the audience walks away from this film without being speechless and ethically conflicted, then they’ve missed the point of the film.