Red State is the latest offering from acclaimed indie director Kevin Smith. This time around Smith, who is more known for his View Askew movies like Clerks, tackles the horror genre. His previous two movies looked at the buddy cop movie genre (Cop-Out) and the other was a more general comedy (Zack and Miri Make a Porno).
The main difference from many of Smith’s modern movies is this time he has moved away from the big studios backing and gone back to hit roots of independent cinema, choosing to self-release the movie in selected theatres via a tour of various cities and countries with an eventual release to the wider audiences.This is a bold and brave move, to both in the cinema and home theatre (DVD / Blu-Ray / Digital / Streaming) audiences at the same time.
Red State is set in Middle America in a small town where a very heavily religious Christian family, the Coopers, have become infamous for making religious protests at various events such funerals where they will preach their religious agenda – particularly one against homosexuality (a view the audience is meant to find awkward). This is clearly is parallel to the very-real Westboro Baptist Church.
As the movie goes on, we find that the Coopers are not only protesting about sinners but are actively using other modern means such as the internet to ensnare “sinners” for “judgment” in their church – such as three local high school students who are trolling the internet for a good time.
When things begin to go wrong in one of these judgment sessions, the ATF is alerted via the local law enforcement to something going on up at Coopers Dell. From here the agent in charge of the investigation, Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) is brought in to investigate the goings on at the ranch located in a secluded valley; and bring the Coopers to judgment themselves.
Those who know Kevin Smith’s movies know that he is not a very serious movie maker with films such as Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Mallrats to name but a few. However, in this movie he manages to find a way to make a more grown-up movie bringing to life what could be a very real scenario that could be occurring in the modern world today.
The movie is filmed in a very gritty way providing the scenes with a very unique edge to each shot that is shown, as well as using techniques that other directors have made infamous such as suspense building through dialogue or misleading the audience into who is really the main character of the movie.
A good example of this is when the head of the family and preacher, Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) is found to be delivering a speech to his congregation / family in a judgment session. The audience knows what is about to happen next, the actors know what is about to happen next, yet the writer is teasing us with a sense of anticipation of the event making the scene become more and more tense. With a speech of anticipation of the action and carnage that is about to be released on-screen, Smith has use squirming.
While very gritty, is it also undeniably a Kevin Smith movie, as it drops in a small amount of Smith’s humor throughout the movie in subtle ways such as how the movie is concluded; and not-so-subtle ways with lines like “if you love me, you will make me some coffee” delivers Goodman to his wife laying in bed asleep. There is also, as explained more clearly in a question and answer session with Kevin Smith after the movie, sections to screw with the audience such as a single throw away shot of the time on the screen, where the audience is left with “this must be important” only never to be paid off.
Looking beyond Smith’s very well-written script, there are some fantastic acting performances given – mainly by Michael Parks as Abin Cooper, leader and preacher of the Cooper family. His portrayal of this character makes your skin crawl throughout most of the movie as someone you would not like to meet, unless you shared his view. Yet when combined with some of Smith’s clever writing, you find yourself sympathizing with this monster at one point in the movie for just a split second and this is where you find just how good an actor Michael Parks is in this movie.
If this movie has a flaw, then it lies somewhere in its actions sequences and this mainly comes down to Smith’s own inexperience with the genre. In some of the gun shooting sequences, they feel more like people just shooting weapons off as they have a conversation, or when there is a sole person on-screen firing at an unseen enemy off camera they feel just like a person shooting blank rounds while a camera films almost in front of them. This makes these scenes feel off-putting and disjointed in what is an overall good movie.
If you get a chance to see this movie with the added question and answers session, then it really makes it a value for money as Smith offers much more insight into how the movie was made as well as conversations on set and really seeing how much passion this man has for a story that he just made up.
The question at the end of the day is this: “is this movie worth my time?” In short, yes I feel that it is worth a watch just to see some interesting and new twists to the horror movie genre. Smith takes the more established rules of movie making and turns them on their heads making something where the audience is left wondering where the movie will go next.
As he did with Clerks back in the day, Kevin Smith has redefined the independent film and I think this is only the beginning of what could be a very interesting independent cinema revolution.