It’s hard to write a review for this movie without it becoming an essay on the films director Kevin Smith, but I will try to avoid doing that as I am a fan of the man and have no reason to attack him or what he says. As a Smith fan, I’ve only been disappointed by him once (Cop Out), but despite that his entire back catalogue sits on my DVD/Blu Ray shelf and each have been viewed multiple times. Red State is the long awaited horror movie from Smith focusing on a church not dissimilar from The Westboro Baptist Church, but perhaps they go a little further in ridding the world of sin. The story follows three teens (Nicholas Braun, Kyle Gallner & Michael Angarano) on the trail for sex who get mixed up with the Five Points Trinity Church and as a result of this a police investigation into the church gets severely out of hand.
People I have talked to about the film have called it tonally misjudged, claiming the film doesn’t know what it wants to be but that might be just what makes it so special. One thing you can definitely say about the tone of the film is that it is unsettling and this is helped by the films refusal to pick one tone and stick with it, this almost makes an audience member uncomfortable, which really adds to the more shocking scenes in the film. The film feels Coen-esque at points with the final scene reminding me of Burn After Reading, and there is a strong Tarantino vibe to its pacing (though it never out stays its welcome as Quentin’s sometimes have the tendency to do) it’s a real leap for Smith (don’t worry, there are still some dick and fart jokes to be found) who has offered an incredibly interesting script here and has put it together wonderfully.
In the past Smith has always been able to attach wonderful casts to his projects and even with his small budget here he is able to get the best of the best. Michael Parks is clearly the stand out who is absolutely mesmerising as the evil preacher Abin Cooper, he delivers a sermon early on in the film that, whilst long, never feels dull or drawn out, a truly evil character made even more terrifying by the idea that he thinks he’s doing good. The three teens are all going from country bumpkins to scared shitless, it’s a shame we don’t actually end up spending too much time with them in the movie. John Goodman and Melissa Leo as always are wonderful; this is the best Goodman has been on film in years (I say on film as he and Leo were wonderful in the first season of Treme). Another star of the flick is Smith himself who handles the film with real talent behind the camera offering stylistic flair. Some of the more violent scenes having a real voyeuristic touch, whilst I love the dull use of colour to off set with the unlikeable characters that populate the story. Smith has always described himself as more of a writer than a director, but here he shines at both.
This film is a blast and a real departure for Smith, which is a great thing and it is sad to think he will only return to our screens with one final film and then retiring, I’d be interested to see where he could go from here. The film isn’t perfect, some extra character development with Goodman would have been nice and the film wraps up very suddenly which is a shame, there is a reference to the real Fred Phelps that probably should have ended up on the cutting room floor and it does include a flashback to a scene that only happened minutes prior (one of my biggest pet peeves in cinema) but these are all miniscule things that don’t detract from one of the more interesting films to have hit our screens this year. Smith has returned to low budget film making with a smashing film, bring on Hit Somebody.