Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.
I have followed Kevin Smith's career for some time now, even since I sat in an empty theater in 1995 to see "Mallrats" on opening day. I had a fast and early love for Smith, which was heightened by his follow-up film, "Chasing Amy". From there, though, he has been on a steady decline... not always straight down, but certainly with few redeeming moments under his belt.
But then comes "Red State". I had more or less written Smith off at this point (I have not yet seen "Cop Out" and maybe never will), but heard modest praise for this so-called horror flick from an important handful of associates. I figure, why not give it a shot? I love horror, and have seen some pretty terrible films... I can handle this.
Well, Mr. Smith, you have blown me away. You managed to make a film with almost no humor... you gave real depth to characters and presented them with hard problems. You successfully parodied a religious group, actually making them creepier than they really are without pushing it to an unbelievable level. You decided against a soundtrack, despite your love of indie music and Soul Asylum. And you have a very dirty, gritty look that I did not know you or cinematographer David Klein were capable of.
My only complaint is the excessive use of the F-bomb. I am certainly not opposed to its use, but it felt like you were going for a record, and it went beyond the amount of profanity I feel a normal person would use... but that is a fairly minor complaint. I sort of felt that the sermon went on too long, but Michael Parks nailed the role of the fanatical preacher so well, how can I fault this? I felt dirty listening to him, and I thank you for that.
Lastly, I have to applaud the decision to go a new route with actors. No Ben Affleck, no Jason Mewes, no Scott Mosier. John Goodman puts on one of his best performances in years. I feel like Goodman is often recognized as a great comedic actor, but not a great actor in general. But here, he shows the range of emotion and human failing that are characteristic of the best. Is there one redeeming character in this film? Not really, but that is what makes it great.
There is debate among viewers and reviewers about whether switching genres was a good move or left the film "uneven". I think it was great. The credits fully inform the viewer that this was supposed to have three segments: sex, religion and politics. And i think it helps the picture keep a momentum. The horror angle runs its course early on... going to an action film was a wise move.
Allegedly, Kevin Smith has one more film in him before he retires (the hockey-themed "Hit Somebody"). I do not know if he can repeat this level of intensity, and perhaps he would be better off stopping here while on a high note. But if nothing else, he has proved to the world that he is more than just a factory for crude humor.