Man. Man, man, man. Red State is not your average Kevin Smith flick. Part slasher horror, part political thriller, and part Westboro-levels of crazy, it’s one dark mother of a film.
I’m well-versed in Smith cinema, and I’d say all of his work up to Red State has been easily identifiable. This time around, however, only a few lines of dialogue in the film struck me as typical of the New Jersey-born director known for crafting crude humour and talk-heavy cinema. There are short moments of humour, each an island in a sea of blood and religious extremism. Red State is not a film I’d recommend to those seeking yet another Smith comedy.
The main issue some viewers will run into is that there are little-to-no likeable characters. Everyone is either enacting immoral orders from a higher power, or acting in a way that renders them vile and unappealing. The plot, however, is a curious mix of Smith and serious cinema, and that’s what’s likely to keep you engaged after the initial fifteen minutes.
Three boys living in a southern state of the US have a Friday night plan – to meet a woman off the internet who has offered the school kids the opportunity to get a little intimate with her, all at the same time. This being Kevin Smith’s script, they are without reservation in how crude and single-minded they become, and this leads to their inevitable downfall. The woman – who happens to live on land owned by local Christian fundamentalists – turns out to be part of the group.
They’re Westboro. Let’s not mess around here. From the homophobic signs to the chanting, to their leader – Abin Cooper, played by the talented Michael Parks (of Kill Bill vols. 1 and 2, and From Dusk Till Dawn). At one point, government agent Keenan (John Goodman, of every film this incredibly talented man has been in) comments to his boss that “no, they’re not like Westboro,” but this feels like a get-out clause for a director who, thanks to Dogma, has already suffered death threats from religious individuals incensed by his parody of their beliefs and lifestyles.
Once these crazed individuals seize the boys, a police officer is shot and the government rolls in, you’re torn between which faction to identify as the villain of the piece. But really, the only hero in the film is Keenan, the government agent torn between his orders and need for his salary, and his morality. Everyone else is perverted in some way, and their faults lead them straight to a dark finish, in short order.
It’s a hard film to discuss simply because it’s so negative and nothing good comes of the entire narrative, but that’s the point. It’s not supposed to highlight the good in the government, the pervy schoolboys, or the fundamentalists. It’s a tale of domestic terrorism and the flaws in character that will lead one to ruin if the wrong mistakes are made. If anything, it definitely proves that Smith has a whole lot of serious-story talent up his sleeve, and I look forward to other offerings from him in future without the religious undertones, just to see how well he does without dogma and his God-fearing childhood as a springboard.