Kevin Smith’s first horror movie. Yep, that’s right – horror movie. When asked to describe this definite departure from his normal fare, Kevin looked back at his experience working in the video rental business. Of the few categories that VHS movies were classified in, "Horror" was the only one he could find that fit Red State. It certainly isn’t typical of what he normally does. As he put it: “This isn’t a comedy like Dogma or Mallrats, it’s more of a horror movie . . . like Jersey Girl."
Red State premiered in L.A. at the Wiltern Theatre on April 9th at the end of a nationwide tour. Smith chose to market this movie himself via Twitter, blogs and screenings such as this one. This way, the movie is specifically marketed to Smith's fan base and not to random middle America – those that may not get his humor. Though there's very little that's funny in this film.
*Some Spoilers Ahead*
Loosely based on Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, Red State tells a similar story of a radical religious group violently opposed to homosexuals. Though Phelps' group has never been violent, they have been known to picket funerals for homosexual soldiers. One such protest opens the film.
Now my reviews in the past have included a number of spoilers and occasionally revealed major plot points. But I'm reluctant to do that with this movie. Fans of Kevin Smith's other movies will be hard pressed to predict where this movie will be going. Part of the fun, in this departure from previous Smith films, is in not knowing what will happen next. And, contrary to previous Smith films, a lot happens in this one.
What I will say is, that in the film some teen boys get duped into meeting a woman they found online for a sexual encounter. This is actually a ploy to capture victims for the church led by Pastor Cooper (Michael Parks). This leads to one of the longest scenes in the movie that is more Tarantino-like than Smith-like. While the bound and caged boys watch helplessly, Pastor Cooper spouts a windy sermon on the evils of "those people" out there. Though, I personally thought it too long, it did make me uncomfortable and I think that was the point.
Again, I don't want to give too much away, but there is a wonderful scene involving one of the boys trying to escape and getting cornered in a closet. What he finds in the closet is one of the most satisfying moments in any horror movie I've seen before. I fully intend to steal it if I make a movie like this in the future.
There's also a scene in the religious compound that involves a young "actress" named Ivy Klein (daughter of cinematographer David Klein). In a very intense scene she was required to act scared and angry, getting increasingly agitated. Having a daughter of my own, it broke my heart to see a little girl so distressed. Apparently, the rest of the crew felt the same way as many of them donated money to poppa David so he could buy Ivy something nice to make up for her ordeal.
Ivy also appears in the funeral protest scene yelling along with the rest of the church members. Since the yelling was improvised, she was initially unsure of how to contribute. Soon, she started yelling, "Swim down, swim down." Kevin thought this was a brilliant suggestion for the dead soldier to swim down to Hell. He later found out she was quoting Finding Nemo.
This is a very unsettling film and though Smith calls it a horror movie, I see it as more of a thriller. It's violent and suspenseful, but makes one think. There are some wonderful supporting roles from the likes of John Goodman, Kevin Pollack, and Stephen Root. But don't get too attached to any of these characters. I warned you.
As I watched this, I didn't think I would be able to recommend it. But the more I think about it, the more I want to see it again. It isn't typical Kevin Smith, but that's good. He's stretching more as a filmmaker - even more so than with Cop Out.
Red State may also appeal to a different audience, if not a wider one. It still won't appeal to the average movie-goer, but will be of interest to Kevin Smith fans, film aficionados, and those who like controversial subject matter.
Perhaps the most interesting moment in the Q&A that followed this screening was Kevin's announcement that this would be his second-to-last film. After his next movie, Hit Somebody, Smith plans to retire as a director. He says he much prefers the type of story-telling he does in front of a live audience. So, we'll see. He may decide he needs to do another movie in the future to buy his daughter Harley a Corvette.
Red State opens on October 19th.
POPped through a head wrapped in plastic
*photos courtesy of IMPawards