Written by J.T. Johnson
What if the followers at the Westboro Baptist Church finally went nuts and unleashed their version of Hell on Earth? This is the primary theme explored in Kevin Smith’s latest film. If you don’t know who the Westboro Baptist Church is, they’re the ones who always picket the funerals of soldiers, known homosexuals and just about anybody that they think are going to hell, which is pretty much everyone in their eyes.
The film starts off by following three teenagers as they head off to have sex with a woman they found online. That woman turns out to be Sarah (Melissa Leo) and, like the poor kids in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, the three kids find themselves held captive by the members of the Five Points Church. The film truly takes off when their leader, Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), begins a sermon that sounds eerily like Fred Phelps, the leader of the real life Westboro church.
Soon, the kids try to escape and this draws the attention of the ATF. It also leads to the film’s other engaging character Agent Keenan, played by always dependable John Goodman. Finally, this leads to a massive firefight where all bets are off and no one is safe.
The film is a great experiment for Smith who gives up his safe comedies for that of a genuinely creepy horror/thriller. With a $4 million budget, Smith makes an old school, gritty, in your face movie that never lets up.
“Red State” has plenty of good performances to go around including Leo’s Sarah, Stephen Root’s Sheriff Wynan and Kerry Bishe’s Cheyenne. Above all others, though, stands Parks as the demented Pastor Cooper. From his initial sermon on, no one can help but focus on this extraordinary performance. Had a lesser actor played Cooper, the film would have completely fallen apart.
Another stellar actor in the movie is Goodman. Keenan is not really a perfect soldier trying to take down the Church. At his core, Keenan is a good man, but his past operations have left him conflicted about how he should handle the church. Goodman almost never gives a bad performance and this is another memorable role to put under his belt.
Of course, what Smith knows best is dialogue. “Red State” is no exception. Parks’ performance is spectacular, but he is helped by the engaging yet creepy words from Smith’s pen. Still, the director can’t help but go for the occasional dick and fart joke.
This is especially true during the beginning of the film. If anyone had to guess that this was a Kevin Smith film, it would be during the first ten minutes. This is where the kids try to figure out whether or not they want to go see Sarah and both the dialogue is a dead giveaway that this is Smith’s film.
The only other problem with the film is the length. It is way too short and honestly, there could have been more. The film would almost end abruptly if it weren’t for one last brilliant monologue. Still, these problems are small in comparison to the rest of the film.
Now, this film’s release is a little bit unorthodox when compared to how other films are released. Unless you were able to catch one of Smith’s screenings throughout the past year, chances are you won’t see it in theaters. Instead, the film has been released through Video-On-Demand services. It’s available through several services such as iTunes, Zune on the Xbox and the Playstation Network. It will also be released on home video on October 18.
Smith said that the film was unlike any other movie that he’s made. This is very true, but it was good to see that while Smith goes light on the comedy this time around, he didn’t leave behind his talents as a storyteller.