Going into Red State I was convinced I was about to watch a horror movie revolving around religious fanatics who butchered people. Gore porn focused on inbred God-fearing folks with a dash of humor. Instead I walked out of the theater dazed (in a good way) by what I watched and convinced this is the best movie so far out of writer/director Kevin Smith. Instead the movie is genre-less, part regular Smith horndog comedy, part horror, part thriller, lots of action and in the end one hell of a statement about sex, religion and politics.
Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.
The description for the film is pretty open on sites like IMDB and that might be it’s biggest disservice, because this is absolutely Smith’s best film (and I’m fond of Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma). The film begins as a sex romp with three teens trekking off for a sex romp by the headquarters of a cultish evangelical religious group. All hell breaks loose and quickly it’s apparent this isn’t the normal Smith film. I hate to give it away as the shifts in tone are some of the most fun things about the film, keeping you off balance with each shift and opening the film up to so many possibilities in direction.
The acting was really good, with fantastic turns by leads Michael Parks as the evangelical preacher Abin Cooper and John Goodman as conflicted ATF agent Joseph Kennan. The direction is kicked up a notch as well, with some amazingly tense moments and action scenes that are unlike anything Smith has done before (there’s massive growth in the action scenes since Cop Out).
What’s amazing is the statement this movie makes. Part allegory on first amendment rights, partly about fanaticism and totally about blind faith and the willingness to submit, the movie deftly mixes sex, religion and politics without being preachy. The movie begins and ends as a “Smith” film with lots of humor, but the in between is unlike anything he’s done before. Both in statement and execution. Previously it was the words that drove his films, now it’s the actions. A complete 180 in how his stories have been told. And the story itself is pertinent today with it’s focus on fanaticism, whether it’s Al Qaeda, the Westboro Baptist Church, or other hate groups, all at the forefront of much that’s driving the world.
There’s little I’d change in the movie, only one thing isn’t explained and to bring it up would create a spoiler. The biggest thing I’d focus on, and part of the point of the tour, is it’s marketing. This isn’t a horror movie. It’s horror and action and thriller all rolled into one. To market it as such is a disservice to itself and likely to turn off those who would never see such movie. And this is one to see. The audience seemed to have the same feeling as the shared experience with fans resulted in a communal and in-sync viewing where we cheered at the same moments and clapped and applauded at the same time. I have rarely seen an audience enjoy a film more and have so much fun.
As the second last film in Kevin Smith’s career (he has stated he’s done after Hit Somebody), it’s an absolute highlight. Fantastic story, direction, acting, action and one hell of a statement. This was an early viewing, but you better believe I’ll be there opening night when the film eventually hits theaters.