This weekend, I had the pleasure of sitting and watching the much ballyhooed film RED STATE by Kevin Smith.
The first think I can say will echo what many others have said… and that is “this ain’t your father’s Kevin Smith film!”
I never thought I’d mention ANYBODY’s father and Kevin Smith in the same post, so there. But the point stands. Other than some foul language and frank sex talk at the beginning of the film, you can very easily forget this is a Kevin Smith film… except for all the talking.
One thing Smith has proven time and again that he is very good at is dialogue. And there is a lot of that in this film. But don’t be fooled. The visuals in this piece go above and beyond anything that the director has set out to do in any of his prior work, and as he’d probably be the first to tell you, it’s a defining departure from his more beloved fare.
RED STATE is a horror film not in the gory sense that most are familiar with (though there is no shortage of blood here). Instead it deals primarily with the real-life horrors that can come from misguided faith. This is a term that I don’t use lightly as that everyone is entitled to their own brand of faith.
In this film, Kevin Smith sets his sights squarely on the Westboro Baptist Church, herein the guise of the fictitious Five Points Trinity Church. While the names are different, the MO is the same. In the film, churchgoers are seen protesting outside of the funeral of a homosexual high school student with the same vitriol that the Westboro Baptists have been seen displaying.
From here, however, Smith makes the leap and asks… what if these people practiced their faith using more violent means. A trio of boys looking for a good time is kidnapped by church members, which sets up the nuanced horror take we’re familiar with… with our “heroes” running from the crazed killers. Smith also layers in a domestic terror angle, bringing in the U.S. Government as participants in our side story… recalling the Branch Davidians of the 1990s.
The acting in the film is top-notch with everyone giving their all. John Goodman creates a wonderfully human character as the ATF agent assigned to take down the Five Point compound. Michael Parks is amazingly believable as the church leader, a character who could have very well been played as a caricature, or simply played as crazy… is instead imbued with a sense of nobility and responsibility which makes him as real and personally justified as any character around.
The film is more cerebral than your standard horror fare, and given its dialogue/monologue-heavy nature may lose some of the more suspense/adrenaline-addicted in the audience, but the film stands as a true statement of what filmmaking is.
Smith brought in some friends and persuaded a few others to come in and join him on a filmmaking journey which goes beyond a standard Hollywood product. He makes the choices to develop characters, eschewing what may be blockbuster success to focus on the craft itself. Michael Parks is given a feast of a role with Pastor Abin Cooper, and he plays it with relish (not the pickled kind, either). But all of these choices seem like they could have suffered at the hands of the Hollywood machine.
Which brings me to my last thought on the film… thank God he Kevin Smith found success BEFORE he made this film. That success gave him the freedom to go out and make and sell this film on his own, a task which would have seemed even more impossible had he not taken the time to surround himself with the people he has and to learn the lessons that brought him here.
Had he tried to make this film sooner in his career, it might have gone through studio executives and been given a happier ending with the sequel potential and promotional tie-ins. Here we are treated to a film in its raw form. If you can’t appreciate it as a horror film… you can appreciate it as a show of just what a film can be… when it’s not made by committee.