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Kevin Smith is a director known for his comedy writing. There was the successful New Jersey cannon with titles like ‘Clerks’, and ‘Clerks 2’, and underappreciated movies like ‘Mallrats’ and ‘Chasing Amy.’ But it seems that the filmmaker has opted to explore other genres with ‘Red State’, and then more recently with ‘Tusk.’
‘Red State’ sees Smith leave behind his slacker orientated writing and instead dive into the murky world of religious extremism. The narrative follows three high school boys who are lured with the promise of sex to a remote trailer. Things are far from pleasurable however and they find themselves drugged, captured, and held hostage by a local Westboro Baptist inspired Christian cult.
Led by charismatic Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks who appears in Smith’s later film ‘Tusk’ in a similar role) the church is hell bent on executing the three young men for their immoral desires.
One of the better elements of Smith’s film is its adherence to genre conventions. Smith tells a convincing horror inspired tale and the opening half is claustrophobic, hopeless, and depressing with its articulation of narrow minded and bigoted beliefs.
Our trio of teenaged captives are our eyes and ears into this world and their terror is infectious. Smith’s narrative is clever as it shows the unreasonable demands and the troubling ability of ardent believers to impose their ideology on others. This prompts audiences to experience a tense and uncomfortable awareness that it’s unlikely that these kids will get out alive.
‘Red State’ is similar to other great underrated movies from Kevin Smith with its reliance on wordy dialogue and clever conversational scripting. After the verbose opening half of the movie however things descend into much more conventional action movie fare.
‘Red State’ isn’t a great movie but it does have fun with its source material. It opens on a sort of socio-political note, with commentary regarding the influence of religious extremism on society, and the role of free speech. But then it descends into a basic sort of survival horror movie, before finishing up with a traditional action movie third act.
It’s unfortunate that ‘Red State’ doesn’t adhere more to one genre and its conventions. Instead the story sprawls and doesn’t always function clearly. Smith seems quite happy to use stereotypes to progress the narrative and often the characters come across as two dimensional and lacking in definition.
Fans of Kevin Smith may feel confused by ‘Red State.’ It’s not exactly a comedy, although it is a funny satire at times, and it functions as a sort of political comment on the role of extremism in Western society. But it’s also one of the best underrated horror action movies of recent times, and it shows that Smith is a versatile filmmaker.
There’s an eclectic cast too. ‘Breaking Bad’s’ Anna Gunn makes a small appearance, Stephen Root of ‘Office Space’ plays a closeted gay sheriff, and John Goodman stars as a federal agent. Collectively they add a degree of celebrity to what is ostensibly an indie film.
The third act contains some more subtle political imagery. A shoot out occurs between the Christian cult and the federal government and the officers are given orders to kill every member of the congregation. It’s a comment on the siege at Waco, and it ironically reminds audiences that extremism comes in many forms.
‘Red State’ is a palatable movie and one that features slick and compelling narrative choices. At times the editing is messy, the action often over the top, but the core of the film, and its story of bigotry, is one that is endlessly contemporary. This is a Kevin Smith movie and it just so happens to be an action/horror hybrid with a political core.
It shouldn’t work as well as it does but ‘Red State’ shows that Smith is a talented filmmaker ready to explore other genres and conventions. If you enjoy this film then its worth watching Smith’s later horror hybrid ‘Tusk.’ In both films Smith employs his usual sarcastic dialogue but within different parameters to his ‘90s slacker fare. ‘Red State’ is helmed by great performances, it contains a story that sparks with political relevancy, and its narrative is both funny and prescient.
Have you seen ‘Red State’? Let me know your thoughts with a comment below.