Directed by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman
Kevin Smith is more or less a household name these days, having established his prowess as a filmmaker via one ingenuous, provocative comedic effort after another. Having learned to love everything his earlier, infinitely more enjoyable efforts had to offer, I couldn’t help but watch helplessly as Mr. Smith’s career took a recent unexpected nosedive. Seeing how last year’s Cop Out is widely considered to be one of the worst things to have graced theaters in the past decade, instant relief came swiftly in the form of this year’s Red State, a tremendous departure for the provocateur that wonderfully challenges convention in light of being a bit of a mess.
Focusing initially on a trio of high school teenagers as their budding libidos result in imprisonment at the hands of some renowned local fundamentalists, Red State‘s intentions seem to be, at first, ostensibly geared toward identifiable religious and social commentary. As gripping as these initial sequences are thanks to Smith’s pronounced expertise as a screenwriter, such thoughts are quickly expunged as the film morphs quickly into the horror thriller Smith himself branded it as prior to its premiere at Sundance. Soon enough, things take a relatively radical turn that either will or won’t sit well with viewers as it continues to touch upon several recognizable themes.
Temporarily putting aside the mess Red State devolves into at this point, the more poignant sequences that punctuate the uneven narrative are chock full of surprises, disregarding our expectations entirely in favor of piling on the shock value. Unafraid to do what it pleases, the film remains entertaining in this regard even as I began to scratch my head in response to the latter act’s questionable integrity. Polarizing as it all may be, Red State does manage to exhibit an astonishing visual quality thanks to some above average cinematography and editing that help accentuate the inherent likability of the film’s more enjoyable moments.
Excellent casting choices compliment Smith’s ambitious, sometimes frivolous and heavy-handed script to the fullest, the most impressive of which can be found within Michael Parks as the notoriously outspoken religious miscreant Abin Cooper. Joining him is Melissa Leo as Cooper’s presumed co-pilot Sara, portraying said character with enough vigor to procure an ample amount of chills when the opportunities to do so present themselves. The rest of the cast remains satisfactory as the proceedings begin to amp up the tension and ridiculousness respectively, even though their efforts are rendered negligible for reasons I’ll leave undisclosed for the time being.
All things considered, Red State is both a welcome and unwelcome departure for Mr. Smith. Its ability to incorporate some intelligible (if overexaggerated) religious and social commentary into an agreeably off-the-wall script is impressive, but the turn the narrative takes later on the proceedings will undoubtedly test one’s patience. Unexpected happenings aptly maintain the film’s intensity, efforts of the cast and above average visual presentation included, although the unevenness of it all proves to be alternately frustrating and refreshing given how initially compelling the film is. I can’t quite explain just why I liked the film as much as I did, but one thing’s for sure: Red State is a hot mess that either will or won’t appeal to Kevin Smith’s avid fanbase.