As a frequent listener of a handful of Kevin Smith podcasts, I really have been following the life of Red State for a long time now. From the difficulty of finding financing to its quick production to its controversial distribution plan, I’ve been there the whole time. It’s actually a little strange to have now seen the movie, which hit On Demand services at the start of the month.
After listening to literally hour’s worth of content relating to the movie, much of which was focused on how great the movie is, what did I think of it in the end?
First of all there is no denying that Red State is unlike any other Kevin Smith film to date. I had heard that said many times but it is certainly true. It may start out like a Kevin Smith movie, with three teens talking graphically about the foursome they are expecting to have with an older lady they found online. However once they arrive at the women’s trailer (good things never happen to people who end up in trailers) the movie takes a complete 180 in tone and feel, and actually becomes surprisingly intense. That’s about all of the plot details I’ll give away.
Red State has been billed consistently as a horror movie and I would have to agree, but it’s not a traditional horror movie. There’s no real jump scares or supernatural goings-on, just some regular people in a fucked up situation with some really fucked up people. As I’m sure you’ve already heard, the central plot is based around the real-life Phelps family who are members of the Westboro Baptist Church. They aren’t the most popular bunch as they have a tendency to run around the country and protest funerals for soldiers, homosexuals and seemingly just about anyone else. I believe they recently did, or at least had plans to, protest a funeral for a teenager who took his own life after being mercilessly bullied for being gay. I don’t think I’m alone in the sentiment of fuck those people.
That concept is taken to more of an extreme here as the Cooper family, the movie version of the Phelps family, has twisted the bible in such a way that they can justify murder. The family is introduced through a long, though never boring, church sermon delivered by head of the family, Abin Cooper, played by Michael Parks. It’s a chilling scene as you hear him break down how they justify their actions and how they really do believe they are doing the Lord’s work. Abin Cooper is a scary protagonist in that he believes he is actually the good guy and that his actions are just. He can’t be convinced otherwise which means you can plead all you want, it won’t do you any good. Michael Parks does a fantastic job disappearing into the role. He’s scary but also has “warm” moments where you get a glimpse of why people would follow this guy. This character could have easily become a live-action cartoon but Parks keeps everything restrained and makes Red State worth the watch for him alone.
That’s not to downgrade any of the other performances as everyone here brings their A-Game. John Goodman has a substantial role in the latter half of the movie as an ATF agent who is called in to calm the situation and seeing as how he is in fact, John Goodman, he does not disappoint. Melissa Leo is also great as one of the members of the church and you know what, I’ll stop there. Just assume that if he/she is an actor in this movie, they do a really solid job.
Smith has obviously ventured out of his wheelhouse with Red State and the gamble has paid off. Not only does the script put very little focus on comedy (once the plot really kicks into gear there are only a handful of jokes until the very last scene), but the editing and directing are many notches above Smith’s regular fair, though I should state I never thought he was a bad director. The movie is exceptionally well shot, featuring a number of well-staged chase and action sequences. Were you to go into this movie without the knowledge of Kevin Smith’s involvement, I think you would be genuinely surprised when his name popped up in the credits. Well done sir!
I have to give Red State a recommendation. It’s a quick watch (about 80 minutes) and it moves at lightning pace, with the exception of the sermon sequence which does slow things down but it is such a deliberately paced and chilling scene that it actually ends up becoming the highlight of a consistently solid movie. I will be absolutely picking up this bluray when it comes out. Good job Mr. Smith.