Kevin Smith’s Red State is a lot like the fire and brimstone speeches that litter it. It’s ballsy, it’s audacious, it’s divisive, but it’s also angry.
Like Massawyrm over at aintitcoolnews pointed out, Smith’s latest film is his “manifesto on what is wrong with [America].” Although centered around the actions of a Fred Phelps-type cult, the film doesn’t hold back in its blatant attacks on contemporary politics and unrestrained capitalism. It’s definitely going to draw the line among people, but that line won’t be defined by Kevin Smith fans vs. everyone else. This film is such a radical departure for the director, that there’s no point in drawing comparisons between it and his original canon. For a man so well-versed in comedy, this debuts as his startlingly fresh take on the horror genre.
But, as Massawyrm also stated, horror it isn’t. Not in the strict sense, at least. The horror in Red State comes not from the quick cuts, or creepy, slow-paced scenes along darkened hallways, but from the insanity of its characters, and the cynicism of its message. There are no heroes in this movie. Everyone is driven by this individualistic, it’s us or them mentality. Smith’s film is condemning the collective whole of humanity because of our equally sick and twisted morals, secular or religious.
To say that Michael Parks is glorious in this is a dramatic understatement. He’s no big-name actor, but damn does he deserve to be. His performance is one of those where you forget you’re watching one to begin with. Instead, you’re sitting in front of a man who delights in revealing himself as an unshakable force of a demented brand of religious justice. His first speech will make the hair on your skin crawl, not because of what he’s saying, but how he’s saying it.
The other actors are all very good. Melissa Leo plays a convincing preacher’s daughter. John Goodman is straight, and to the point. The other true star of this film, however, is Kyle Gallner as Jarod, the orchestrator of the sexual escapade that gets his compatriots wrapped up with the fundamentalists in the first place. I really expect him to go places, but he might have some problems along the way due to the fact that he looks a little like Robert Pattinson.
The only problematic portion of the film is the beginning. Setting up the characters takes some time, and the process kind of draws itself out, but Red State starts firing on all engines about 10 minutes in. Watch it as soon as you can. It’s on netflix for the time being.