To give you some context for my Red State review, I should first talk a little about my feelings on Kevin Smith’s films. I guess that’s a short discussion, because it could be summed up with, ‘I don’t like them.’ Ok, that’s over-simplified. I admit that I thought Clerks was fairly funny when I first saw it. And I saw Mallrats opening night. Mostly because I felt like I was supporting the burgeoning acting career of Jason Lee. (this was before he believed in alien ghosts or whatever) My skater friends and I even cheered when his name came up in the opening credits. I saw Chasing Amy because why not. That’s where my casually mild appreciation of Smith’s work ended. Chasing Amy was the first movie I saw in a theater that made me seriously consider walking out halfway through. I hated it so much that I left angry at myself for sitting through the whole thing. The dialogue was so self-aware and winky and “cool” and the story was just offensive. (damn! i’m getting angry again!) You would think that would be that, right, no more Smith movies for me? Nope! I saw Dogma and was disappointed by its mediocrity. And I saw Tusk. Oh, Tusk, that pinnacle of shitty, unlikable Kevin Smith characters spouting ridiculously “offensive” lines. And the story is fucking asinine. Smith’s manic passion for weed is clearly the source we have to thank for that turd. (i know some people liked Tusk. i’m not some people) Oh, I also saw Red State. How’d I like it? Well, I’ll tell ya.
Three teenage boys follow their sinful yearnings and meet up with a woman they ‘met’ online for some sinful orgiastic sex. The woman is classy (natch), so she offers them beers when they get there. (beers and sex… see where the internet leads?) As the boys disrobe, they pass out. Because they were drugged by the nice lady who invited them over for 3-on-1 debauchery. (i know, i’m just as shocked as you are!) They wake up trapped in the church compound of a Christian cult headed by Abin Cooper (played by Michael Parks, who you may remember as the sheriff from Kill Bill with the best casually misogynist line ever). They know things aren’t going to go well for them when they witness a young homosexual man murdered for his “sins”. Turns out, he was caught in the same way they were. (but with a dude falsely offering sex, obviously) Things go from bad to worse for everyone when law enforcement shows up and the situation escalates disastrously.
You could have read some of the above in that snarky tone you probably read all of my synopses in, but you’d be wrong this time. This film deserves no snark. (well, very little anyway) Smith has given us his least “Kevin Smith-y” film with Red State. It feels like a mature exploration of a decidedly terrifying subject – a murderous cult that truly believes the heinous things they’re doing are right. We’ve seen Satanic cults in films and we’ve been frightened by their evil, but these mindless Christians killing in the service of Jesus are even more terrifying. It’s easy to imagine that this cult exists somewhere. That Fred Phelps and his XXXXX followers (I spent 15 minutes trying to think of a vile enough adjective for those “people” but I couldn’t), or someone like them, would take their insanity that hair’s breadth further and kill a so-called sinner. The film also shows governmental insanity. This too is just believable enough. Transparency isn’t U.S. law enforcement’s strong suit, so it’s easy to assume they’re up to some unethical shit. That’s also scary. So, Smith can scare us. Is his dialogue still Kevin Smith-y? Some of it is. But in this case, it fits the teens spouting it. And any such annoyances are easy to overlook as the story hits viewers with surprise after surprise.
The Final Cut: Red State shows what Smith is capable of when he turns his attentions to our beloved genre – a genuinely terrifying and fresh look at Christian zealot cults. (too bad that focus was lost in a haze of pot smoke when he farted out Tusk)