Let’s be honest, Kevin Smith made a brave move with this film. Discarding his usual catalogue of dick jokes to focus on more ‘grown up’ affairs was always going to raise eyebrows. When the end credits roll and his cast is broken into the categories of sex, politics and religion, it becomes clear that this was a film with a message. Unfortunately, we’re not sure what director/writer Kevin Smith is trying to say.
Three teenagers are invited to a four way over the internet with a middle-aged woman. After deciding that watching each other’s O-faces is most certainly not weird, they go to her trailer, drink drugged beer and awake caged up in a church congregation led by Fred Phelps wannabes, Abin Cooper. The church is part of a compound in the middle of the countryside where ‘sinners’ are coaxed from their computers with promises of sex before being executed. It all sounds very teen horror and, in fairness, was how Smith sold it a few years back. However, it’s not really horror.
In fact, we’re not sure what it wants to be, with the second act basically being a low key Waco siege re-enactment, with John Goodman SWAT team leader forced by his superiors to attack the compound with extreme prejudice. Smith lays it on thick with clicky boom clicky boom, argh, I’m deaded, and following in the footsteps of Hostel (a clear influence in terms of direction), you’re genuinely never certain who is going to survive.
However, it’s also very, very talky. Like really talky. Everyone gets a monologue. Smith has a fantastic ear for dialogue, but it’s not suited for this kind of film. He builds the audience up to expect an exploitation-spiced movie with religious zealots and then proceeds to talk at them for an hour and a half.
During the finale’s siege, there is that much conversation going on, we wondered why Smith bothered to waste money on special effects when he may as well have followed the rules of Dogme and just placed John Goodman in a box with a script and a camcorder.
The aforementioned 180 in plot is also somewhat irritating as the boys kidnapping is not the only storyline that gets discarded. A subplot involving an alcoholic sheriff leading a double life is forgotten as soon as it starts. Even the last minutes of the film dispense of a proper resolution by skipping a head a couple of weeks and having a main character tell you what you missed. Show us Smith, what was said sounded pretty good and would have been preferable to the Burn After Reading like ending.
The majority of the good points come in the form of John Goodman who is quite frankly brilliant; easily switching from world weary put-upon to commander in chief in the blink of an eye.
Red State is not Smith’s worst film. Whilst he has Cop Out in his filmography, that spot will always be secure. However, it’s definitely not his best. There is something trying to break through and whilst we didn’t enjoy myself as much as we hoped, we look forward to seeing where he goes.