Red State (2011)

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.




  1. I’ve watched this twice now. Just to check. Solid little drama, good shoot out, charasmatic villain. 6.5/10.
    I have issues with how fast the 2011 FBI turn to a “kill innocent women and children” blanket policy but maybe I just don’t want to believe that. I did not enjoy the same bloody shot he used on Ben Affleck in Dogma is put to use here with equally fourth wall breaking results. You’re right about the Burn After Reading ending though I don’t see what you want out of the “gay sheriff” subplot? More moustachioed blowjobs? Still, although “self financed” doesn’t mean “automatic win” I am warily getting back on board the Smith ship.

    1. The sheriff subplot felt tacked on. There’s a scattergun approach to Smith’s writing in this film. And it’s not wholly successfully. The sheriff just feels like Smith’s way of saying ‘look Im writing about gay people and not talking about fisting..Im growing up’.

      That said, I stand by what I say, I’m interested to see where he goes from here.

  2. I agree with almost everything you say I just wonder if by some miracle people had seen this without Smith’s name all over it whether it would’ve been judged differently. Oh, Smith’s writing IS scattergun. That’s what made Clerks SO good in the first place. You’re complainng about the gate before the horses have rushed the compound or some less confusing metaphor…….

    1. I think if it didn’t have Smith’s name on it we’d never know about it. It would be one of those conveyor belt DTV horrors. Something by The Asylum.

      But yeah, I see what you’re saying. I really wanted to like it. To be honest, I have a sinking feeling his next film will be Clerks 3 or Zak and Miri Make a Snuff Film.

  3. It’s not Asylum bad is it? A bit of tidying up and slower pacing and the removal of the “suck it out of my dick” line and Boom! You’ve got yourself a Ron Howard picture that miraculously doesn’t have Russel Crowe in it. Maybe.

    1. I meant more the mimicking other films. Its Hostel lite. The poster even tries to mimick Hostel. And you want blame the marketing department, because Smith was involved with that as well.

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