Guns, Gods, and Goodman
Like most teenage boys, I loved Kevin Smith when I was younger. His brand of foul-mouthed, not-for-kids humor is perfect for the 14-18 year old demographic. Once he started to break away from his bread and butter of Jay and Silent Bob-related movies, Smith's movies really went downhill. Jersey Girl, Zack and Miri Make A Porno, and Cop Out were all disappointments. Maybe stepping away from comedy or romance would help reignite his flair for film making. Maybe a dose of horror is just what the doctor ordered.
Red State is set in a small, Middle-American state and follows the story of three young men, Travis, Jared, and Billy Ray. The boys respond to an ad for an older woman looking to party. On their way to the woman's trailer, they accidentally sideswipe the care of Sheriff Wynan, who was preoccupied with a male prostitute. They drive off and arrive at the woman's trailer. She offers them drugged beers and the boys pass out. Jared wakes up in a blanket-covered cage. He cannot see where he is, but he can hear the sermon of the radical, hateful Abin Cooper (Michael Parks, From Dusk Til Dawn, Grindhouse). Cooper's Five Points Trinity Church is made up of just family members and is known for protesting funerals. Abin begins to strap Jared to a cross when Deputy Pete arrives at the church, looking for the car that hit the sheriff. Abin chats up the deputy while Jared, Travis, and Billy Ray try to make their escape. Billy Ray, chased by one of the men at the church, ends up in a room filled with assault weapons where the kill each other. Pete hears the gunshots , but is shot himself. Abin blackmails Sheriff Wynan with pictures of the sheriff in compromising positions with male prostitutes. Wynan calls ATF agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman, The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona) for help. Will Agent Keenan be able to rescue the boys and stop the extreme church from starting a holy war?
Jesus that looks dangerous
There wasn't a question if Kevin Smith could write and direct, but could he go outside his comfort zone. For a first movie, Smith does a pretty good job of capturing the fear of the boys and the suspense of escaping. Red State works because the villains are real, albeit extreme, people. The violence and reasoning behind it are all very believable. There are some creative shots and interesting camera shots. While the story itself is pretty basic, the execution is what keeps the audience watching. I appreciate that there is a lot of social commentary in the movie. Moral questions are raised and remind me of some of George Romero's work.
Loosely based off of the Westboro Baptist Church (who actually protested the film's release), Michael Parks really hits it out of the park (sorry, I had to) with his solid performance. You really feel that he believes the hateful things he says. John Goodman is great as always. You could put him in a Telenovella and he'd still pull it off. With that being said, Goodman wasn't given enough time on screen. His character doesn't come in until the last 1/3 of the movie. We're so engrossed in what's happening at the church that his introduction is a bit of a suspense killer. The focus shifts more to him than the captured boys. Perhaps if he was introduced sooner, it would have been a smoother transition.
You're entering a world of pain
For a first-time horror director, Kevin Smith did a pretty good job. The movie has real fear and suspense, brought out by some really good acting and creative directing. There is good social commentary for those that like to think and bloody violence for those that just want to see heads explode. The flow of the movie and the story unfortunately get muddied towards the end and the finale may disappoint some people. Either way, Red State is an enjoyable watch and a sign that Kevin Smith may have a future in horror.