Review: Red State (18) / Director: Kevin Smith / Screenplay: Kevin Smith / Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun, Kyle Gallner / Release date: Out now
18 years ago a young filmmaker from New Jersey wowed crowds at the Sundance Film Festival with his feature debut. That young man is now an established writer and director, adored by fan boys across the globe. His name is Kevin Smith and this is his latest offering.
It's been a long time since Smith turned in a film that showed the same promise as some of his earlier work. It would appear that for every Chasing Amy there would be a Zack and Miri Make a Porno. But Smith is an astute filmmaker and now (somewhat reluctantly) a smart businessman. In the interim, between movies, Kevin Smith has built a commendable online network via his Smodcasts on S.I.R! and the truth of it is, that with every Copout comes a paycheck that funds his growing empire.
But Smith's endgame isn't to become some kind of megalomaniac industry God. By his own admission, he's 'just a guy who wants to tell stories', and in playing the industry at its own game, Kevin Smith has found a way to tell stories that Hollywood wouldn't give the time of day. Red State is undoubtedly one of those stories.
Those who like their movie genres defined with a nice neat bow, turn and run away screaming now.
If you've seen the trailer for Red State then you might think you have an idea what kind of a movie this is. Honestly, you couldn't be more wrong (if you want a trailer which sums the film up better, check out Smith's own edited example in the Extras). This is far from a 'teens captured by backwards rednecks' horror movie (although there are certainly elements of that). While Jared, Travis and Billy Ray do find themselves a little tied up (and not in a good way) after an attempted three-way with a Texan MILF, their plight is just one element of a much larger story.
Describing how the film throws your expectations out of the window time and again is incredibly difficult without explaining why. Suffice to say, there is no point at which you are allowed to feel comfortable during this highly unpredictable film. Red State bludgeons your expectations at every turn, to a point where, just before the final scene, you begin wondering if things really are about to go biblical. The fact that Smith can take you so willingly to such a potentially incredulous place is testament to his immense talent.
In fact Smith's greatest attributes shine throughout. The dialogue is up to his usual conversational high standard, the script is well crafted and brave in every respect and his direction is (as always) honest and unobtrusive. What is key here though is the film's most important message, summed up perfectly by one of the film's final lines of dialogue: "People just do the strangest things when they believe they're entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe."
Smith is far from on his own in bringing this story to life so convincingly. While the teens provide the right amount of angst and (brief) comedy, it's the understated performance by John Goodman and the powerhouse turn by Michael Parks that really knock you for six. I have no doubt that Parks will be overlooked by Oscar, but by God the man deserves one. Notable by their absence are the plethora of actors who usually appear in Smith's films. But then, this is a very different film to anything he's made before. In fact, this is a very different film to anything anyone has ever made before.
Shocking, powerful and brutal, Red State is a must, not just for fans of Kevin Smith, but for fans of cinema that challenges you.
The Extra Features:
Kevin Smith's intense passion for film drips from every added feature here, a fact enforced by all of the bonus material coming prefixed with an introduction by the man himself.
In the time that Smith has worked as a filmmaker he has grown, and Red State is proof positive of that. The fact that this is his penultimate directorial turn breaks my heart. As you'll discover in the in-depth Making Of documentary, once Smith’s final movie, Hit Somebody - a tale of a Canadian farm boy who discovers a talent for ice hockey violence - is complete, he intends to focus his attention on helping other young filmmakers make movies. A monumental gain for new filmmakers, but a huge loss for his audience.
Smith's Sundance speech is also included here in full, along with a Conversation With Michael Parks, two Trailers and Poster Art. What's missing, however, is a Commentary track, but then if this follows the business models of his previous releases, we can expect a two-disc edition to appear at some point in the future.