Red State – Kevin Smith’s Bleak Look on Humanity…

I was excited to hear that Kevin Smith‘s next movie was going to be a dark one. For years his wit has made me laugh with Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma and the like. Now I was going to see another side of his film making. Sitting down to watch Red State I wondered if this was going to be another exercise in so called ‘torture porn’. We’ve seen it many times in recent thrillers like Frontieres. Where cruel violence is dished out with graphic malice. But there’s something much more to this story than that.

Synopsis: “Three horny high-school boys come across an online ad from an older woman looking for a gang bang. Boys being boys, they hit the road to satisfy their libidinal urges. But what begins as a fantasy takes a dark turn as they come face-to-face with a terrifying “holy” force with a fatal agenda.”

Red State comes across as a bleak look on humanity. Mr. Smith pulls no punches in telling you that his faith in all kinds of different parts of society is lacking. By the middle of the movie it was clear that I wasn’t going to like any character in this film for obvious reasons (except maybe John Goodman’s character, which I’ll come to later).

The first half hour of the movie sets you up for what you already know. A few high school friends (played by Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and Kyle Gallner) go on a little road trip in the hopes of getting some sloppy four-way action with a local cougar who has posted a Craig’s List kind of sex personal. Once they reach their destination its all too clear that they are a bunch of little flies in a really big spider’s web. For some reason they are completely oblivious to the dangerous vibes we get from their host and much to their detriment.

They become hostages of a Westboro Baptist type of clan run by a preacher named Abin Cooper (played excellently by Michael Parks). And its clear after a lengthy sermon that their personal war on sinners is coming to a head. Once the wheels of violence is in motion the secluded congregation find themselves at odds with a detachment of the ATF and for lack of a better term, all Hell breaks loose.

I felt like Mr. Smith was preaching to the choir on this one. I have no love for a religious sect that pickets funerals just to get media coverage. I despise how the Patriot Act has allowed American institutions to disrupt the lives of anyone they see fit, discarding all the rules of conduct and call it justice against terrorism. If any of these points hit you personally I expect you will feel a bit of apprehension through the movie.

Do you feel bad for these teens who have been snagged by these religious wackos? Not really. Do they deserve the punishment that is meant for them? Certainly not. But I feel indifferent nonetheless.

Through the movie you are introduced to a local Sheriff (Stephen Root) who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The leader of the ATF force (played by John Goodman, looking a little thinner these days. Good for you John, you look great!) is arguably the only character that we can relate to in this story. He has a sense of duty and believes in his cause but also realizes that his superiors are dishing out illegal orders and he has some time coming to terms with the morality of his position.

Red State came off as a what if situation. What if we took the Westboro Baptist Church followers, armed them and put them in the middle of the David Koresh: Waco incident. This is precisely the story we have here. The teens looking for a carnal good time become minor plot points and kind of fizzle out of relevance at some point.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. If for nothing else than to watch Kevin Smith come out of his comfort zone and touch upon a few dark truths that are very real today. His message is clear. Be careful with the internet. Be mindful of hate filled religious nutjobs and don’t believe everything the government tells you. Everybody has an agenda and its usually not very wholesome. No matter what side they pertain to be on.

The movie itself is very well put together. Dialogue is clear. Lighting is done well. Weapons fire is loud. You believe you are where the movie puts you. Solid performances by everyone involved. Its clear that Kevin Smith has great talent and not just for comedy. My greatest wish after watching this movie is that he take a horror torch firmly in hand and show us how dark he can really be. Red State is certainly not a horror movie. But in contrast to his earlier comedy work, its a disturbing film.

Red State gets 3.5/5 shades


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  1. Paul B

    I watched the film on Monday and I wasn’t sure what to make of it…Did I enjoy it? Was Smith reaching past what he could handle? Questions of that nature. I had to watch it again today to realize that it is a very well made movie which tells an incredibly frightening story (in it’s own right).
    Smith handles the subject well, and with the exception of the beginning and the end, (the very LAST line to be exact), there isn’t a laugh to be had in the movie. Certainly not “typical” Kevin Smith fodder. I find it sad that Smith has had this kind of movie in him, and now he’s on the cusp of retirement. But that’s another argument for later.
    Now, I do have to say this, I REALLY dislike how (outside of John Goodman) there isn’t a single redeeming character in the movie. The kids are one note, the church family are all shrieking villains and the cops come off as witless buffoons. Even the one church goer who does turn out to be “good” really isn’t. Basically I simply refuse to believe that with ALL the people in this situation, there is only ONE decent one among them.
    As for the performances. Michael Parks IS brilliant, and if this was a movie with more of a budget, (or less of a stigma attached to it), I believe he’d be in serious consideration for awards….he’s that mesmerizing. We can believe that someone this twisted could have these thoughts and opinions.
    Goodman is equally amazing in his role as a man torn by what to do with a situation FAR out of hand.
    The rest of the cast? Well, I go back to “one note, shrieking villains and witless buffoons”. For some reason, Melissa Leo REALLY wore me down, and the less said about Stephen Root and his “performance”, the better.
    I was REALLY looking forward to this movie. I’m a big fan of Smith’s work, and Kevin Smith the person, so I had high expectations for the movie. Was I let down by it? Not really…..I just wish that Smith had put more thought into the characters and asked for more from the performances, and a movie that I think was VERY good would be that much closer to great.

  2. cash

    Paul, I think you and I interpreted this one pretty much the same way. It held my attention throughout and I too was amazed at how unlikable the cast was and how much I really didn’t care for any of them. Even the initial “victim” during the sermon. Great death, but who cares? Perhaps that was the point. Either way. John Goodman looks great and it was nice to see him again.

  3. Paul B

    I think the deaths were designed to be great looking, but to make us not particularly care for the victims. Another one of Smith’s little jabs at how violence (shown violence and spoken violence) desensitizes the masses.
    On that point though…I completely agree with your earlier post about this NOT being a torture porn epic…and I couldn’t be happier for that. I had a feeling that it was going to go that way, and thankfully it didn’t. It left me feeling depressed and saddened, but I wasn’t feeling nauseous.

  4. Marina

    You have really interesting blog, keep up posting such informative posts!

  5. Dave Rocha

    Very accurate review Cash! I felt the same way being a Kevin Smith fan myself. I watched the movie last night and was very disturbed by how possible this movie is.
    Good Job Kevin and I hope you try a full on horror as Cash has suggested. Smith is more than d*ck and fart jokes after all!

  6. Nathan

    Love the review, it makes me want to watch the movie and I don’t even particularly like horror.

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