RED STATE (Kevin Smith, 2011) Review

Red State Reviewby Jason Lees,

Between writing for this site, work, and being a poor college student and single father, I don’t have much time for variety when it comes to my personal entertainment. I love movies, especially my horror movies, so if I’m going to take the time to watch something, it’s almost always in my genre or something that my kid likes. Having said that, I’m also a huge Kevin Smith fan. I was in college (the first attempt) when his CLERKS came out and it was the eye opener to indie cinema that changed the way lots of people saw film. Whether he wanted to or not, Smith became the poster boy for indie cinema.

A few years later Smith established a mini-empire with such comedy flicks as CLERKS 2 and DOGMA. He made movies pretty much for his fans, almost always showcasing characters in his own private universe. Mass appeal alluded him (he probably had more viewers for his Tonight Show sketches) but his films kept getting better, and they always offered more than the standard dick and fart jokes that he was labeled with. DOGMA is actually a pretty personal look at modern day faith, and CHASING AMY is damn near a classic in the boy-meets-lesbian subgenre.

Now, after some misfires like COP OUT, Smith has pulled off the unthinkable, by making his first non-Kevin Smith film. That’s not an insult, that’s a badge of honor. With RED STATE, Smith has shed all of his safety features and gone out and made the film he would’ve made if CLERKS hadn’t been a hit. If he hadn’t found his niche so early, this is the type of work we would’ve been seeing from the man all this time. Maybe not as polished as it is now (let’s face it, he’s had years to learn his craft) but with RED STATE, he demonstrates what a filmmaker can do when there’s still fire in the gut.

Which is why I loved this film so much. It brought together what I love about movies. It’s scary, socially relevant, and a sort of coming of age story all at the same time. Within the film, it’s also a mish mash of ingredients, a bit of synergy allowing it to be more than the sum of its parts.

We open in Texas where, with the help of Craig’s List, three teens are about to hook up for some nicely seedy anonymous sex. Instead of a discount hooker, they find Michael Parks and his church of militant right wing fundamentalists. From there, it’s a roller coaster, but not the fun kind. We get the last word on torture porn style insanity without being torture porn, as well as one of the greatest performances ever from John Goodman (and that’s saying a lot after his portrayal of Charlie Meadows in BARTON FINK).

RED STATE isn’t cookie cutter horror, and it’s not even standard action or thriller. It is its own beast. We get some shock scares (which would be cheap jumps in a lesser movie) but the reason I feel comfortable reviewing it here at MoreHorror is that the performance of Michael Parks is so damn unsettling in a real life kind of way. He doesn’t play Cooper as a slasher or Hannibal Lecter psycho, but as a non-fiction type of evil that you can easily see weaker minded people following. At one point in the film, he gives an impassioned sermon, that while full of completely reprehensible ideologies, you can’t help but feel like you probably agree with him to his face, maybe even sit and listen for a bit (be thankful the real life basis for his character has none of Parks’s charisma or we’d have bigger problems than we already do).

Now that Smith has buried Jay and Silent Bob, let’s look forward to the next phase of his career. If RED STATE is a promise of the work Smith is capable of doing outside of the studio system, then let’s follow him and see where he leads. Ignoring all the hoopla and bells and whistles of how this film was financed or marketed, all that matters is the final film. RED STATE delivers. It’s a film that not only give credibility to an entire career, but also redefines that career.
And don’t let politics or denomination get in the way of catching this flick. Like the promos say, there’s not a decent person in the picture. Everyone is painted as an asshole at one time or another. This isn’t left or right bashing and it definitely isn’t anti-Christian. What it is is pro-storytelling and damn good filmmaking. Not to be missed.

Red State

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