Kevin Smith ventures into the unknown with his first entry into the horror genre. Red State is very much a horror picture, but it’s also both an action film and a character drama. Its three films mashed into one and it works damn well for the most part. Smith proves that he still knows how to make movies and he’s more than willing to step outside his comfort zone to do so.
Red State tackles many issues in today’s society in a very unique way. It’s terrifying, shocking and gut busting funny. I haven’t seen a film quite like it, but that isn’t to say it’s without flaws. A dragging first act almost kills the film before it gets a chance to start rolling. It’s not Kevin Smith‘s best film and it’s not really that groundbreaking for the horror genre, but it knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end and I applaud Smith for sticking to his guns and making a film that’s so outside his boundaries.
Travis (Michael Angarano), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) and Jarod (Kyle Gallner) are three teens looking for a wild night. They search the internet and find a middle aged woman looking to have sex with all three of them. The woman’s name is Sara (Melissa Leo) and they know absolutely nothing about her. They meet her online in a chat room and drive all the way to her trailer home and she invites them in for a few beers and a promised sexual encounter. The boys of course stumble into something big that puts the lives of them and others at stake.
A group of extreme fundamentalists lead by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) takes a break from rallying outside of funerals of dead soldiers and gays to teach these three boys some serious religion in the form of a handgun, saran wrap and a good old bible. Things get ugly and things escalate quickly. Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) is a government official who is called in with a small army of heavily armed men ready to raid the private compound the Cooper’s reside on. Things escalate even higher and at this point it’s an all-out war.
Red State is best viewed when you go in cold. The less you know about the film the better, which is why my plot summary was a little vague. The only thing you really need to know is that it’s a horror flick directed by Kevin Smith and starring John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Michael Parks. The rest is better discovered. It’s Kevin Smith doing something he’s never done before and it works really well.
My main problem with Red State didn’t really have to do with the acting, filming, directing or writing, but just the pacing of the first half. The film opens at a school where we are introduced to the three main boys. There kind of rude and disgusting, but nothing you can’t stomach. Slowly the film pulls back as the plot is revealed. The boys want to have a sexual encounter with an older lady and they just so happened to find a willing lady online, who is willing to “do” all three of them, at the same time. Right there red flags and warning signs should have been alerting these boys of the pickle they will be getting themselves into, but boys will be boys.
They venture down the dark road into a creepy little town where they are introduced to the lady and from that point their whole world gets rocked from the inside out. Blood, guns and bodies fill the rest of Red State. The film never keeps you comfortable, always switching it up and running in the opposite direction whenever you feel like you got a handle on it. Kevin Smith knows how to direct characters and Red State is no exception. John Goodman leads the seasoned members of the cast, with his tired and conflicted character Joseph Keenan.
Michael Parks keeps getting all of the praise as the leader of the cult, Abin Cooper, but I honestly thought he was just a tick above average. Abin Cooper is a dark and troubled soul, but most of his intimating lines were hard to understand because of Park’s constant speech slurs. I had the subtitles on whenever he had a chunk of scene to steal from the rest of the cast. He’s a mighty fine actor and his character is disturbing, but not as menacing as some may suggest.
Stealing the thunder from the young cast is actress Kaylee DeFer, who plays the granddaughter of Abin Cooper. Her character Dana starts out kind of quiet and reserved, but when the shit hits the fan she almost instantly takes center stage. She’s torn between staying with her family and continuing to drink the Kool-Aid or getting the innocent kids out of the house before the agents raid the place and kill everyone. Watching her interact with Melissa Leo is a brutal dose of sick and twisted family decisions. She’s a troubled individual that is so close to being saved, but in the end she must decide what’s more important, her so called god or innocent children.
The rest of the cast is good. The film plops in a few bigger names that play in some minor roles, but it’s fun watching them come and go. Melissa Leo manages to fully embody yet another interesting character, opposite of her role in The Fighter. The young kids live up to expectations, not doing too much, but getting across several important points. As I said before Kevin Smith is a character director and his dialogue works well with just about everyone involved in Red State.
Red State is an ambitious piece of work by a director that most have come to consider done and finished. Kevin Smith still has plenty of life in him and he shows it off in Red State. It’s a well-crafted horror film that also deals with some touchy religious issues and a shit load of action heavy violence. I generally liked how it kept turning the whole thing on itself, keeping you guessing and wondering what the hell is going to happen next. The slow opening is a drag and it almost ruined the whole thing for me, but luckily things started to pick up really fast. I hope Smith continues to make projects like this, out of his normal zone of filmmaking. Maybe he has potential in genres that he never had any interest in?
Red State is one sharp looking Blu-Ray. The colors are dark, rich and full of crystal clear detail. The film was shot digitally on Red One cameras and you can most certainly tell. Smith isn’t known for making beautiful movies full of color, but Red State really is something special to look at. The film contains plenty shots of filtered, washed out and gloomy gray colors, but it looks so damn good! This is easily Kevin Smith‘s best film, visually.
The audio is also very impressive. Lionsgate’s 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is one of Kevin Smith‘s best sounding films. The design is set up with a key ear for detail. The film starts out on the quiet side with mostly dialogue coming through the front channels, but once the film takes its horror turn things get wild and loud really fast. The back channels are constantly in use giving bullets and various sound effects plenty of room to make an impact. It literally becomes a war film at one point and it makes good use of the 5 channels. Kevin Smith‘s audio team needs to be rewarded for this loud and crisp audio track.
What’s a Kevin Smith movie without some special features? Red State comes with a fine bundle of supplements that give you a better look at what Smith was thinking while putting the production together, filming it and releasing it. The making of doc is probably the best piece of extra material here, but the rest of the stuff is worth a watch for any person claiming to be a Kevin Smith fan. Check out the list below.
- The Making of Red State (HD)
- Smodcast Commentaries (HD)
- Deleted Scenes (HD)
- The Sundance Speech (HD)
- A Conversation with Michael Parks (HD)
- Poster Gallery
- Trailers (HD)
I was just as shocked as everyone else when I came out of Red State. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected, mainly because of how hard Kevin Smith tries as a filmmaker. I appreciate his attempt at making something he’s never done before and I think it really works. The opening is without a doubt the weakest part of the whole film, but that gets taken care of pretty quickly.
From that point on Red State is smooth sailing, well smooth if you can handle people getting tortured and murdered over their religious beliefs. Red State is an effective horror film that is driven by its cast and director. It certainly touches base on a lot of hot topics going on in the world today and I like how Smith pokes fun at it while also remaining completely serious in the tone and tension of it all. It’s a gruesome horror film that you won’t have problems laughing at too.
The Blu-Ray is even more impressive. The video is the sharpest most visually stunning film Kevin Smith has ever worked on, thanks to his director of photography and the amazing Red One cameras. Lionsgate accompanies the video with a thunderous 5.1 DTS-HD audio track that packs some heavy punches. The film may trick you with its quiet start, but things get loud and nasty real quick. You might wake the neighbors when this is all said and done! The special features help round out the package and make it something worth purchasing for die hard Kevin Smith fans and those looking for an experimental Kevin Smith horror film.
The replay value also lingers, with new topics of debate worth bringing up with each viewing. Red State is easily Kevin Smith‘s most daring piece of work and one worth talking about long after you’ve left the theater or turned off the Blu-Ray. The question is, are you willing to give Kevin Smith a fair and honest chance at changing your mindset about himself as a filmmaker?
Red State as a package is well worth the money. The movie is exceptionally strong during its second half and the Blu-Ray features a very sharp picture transfer and a loud and crazy audio track. This isn't Kevin Smith's best film, but it's his most experimental and the experiment works for the most part.