Kevin Smith is an irritating director, and I mean that in the best of all possible ways. He has directed some great films (Clerks, Dogma, Chasing Amy), some really fun films (Zach and Miri Make a Porno, Mallrats), and some trash (Jersey Girl, Clerks II, Cop Out). So when I heard that he was taking aim at the horror genre I was intrigued. Then there was the fear that Kevin Smith would ruin a Kevin Smith film. I started hearing more about Kevin fighting airlines over his weight, and making long speeches at film festivals about the release of Red State, than I did about the content of Red State. It certainly has a talented cast and a director who can be one of the best when he’s on .. but would this work? I am happy to report that, for me, it did work! The proof is in the pudding with the recent Lionsgate blu ray release.
The movie begins in a very Smith-like fashion. 3 horny kids are looking for something to “relieve themselves” with. They have stumbled onto an online hookup site and an attractive older woman who is willing to share herself with all 3 of them .. at once. Let’s just say that what they find is not so much a foursome with a hot older lady, but a foursome with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Or at least what the Holy Trinity means to the followers of Five Points Trinity Church. This tiny family-run church is obviously based on Fred Phelps and his Weboro Baptist Church. Smith asks the audience, what would happen if we put guns into the hands of these people? Well the results aren’t pretty. The boys wake up and they are bound in cages and about to be the central point of the family’s “sermon”. Over the films very short 88 minutes things escalate to a shootout between the Five Points Church and a team of ATF agents. And that, in a nutshell is the plot of Red State. This isn’t a plot heavy film, but more of a message film.
The joy of the film is mainly in the way Smith has directed it. It’s almost as if you shouldn’t know Smith was the director, so at the end it could say: A Kevin Smith Film … and you could go “WHAT?!” It’s not that shocking though when you know it, as the beginning is mainly boys behaving badly. Crude language is something you come to expect from a Smith film. But that’s the joy of it, after 15 minutes you realize this isn’t your mother’s Kevin Smith film. Then as soon as we are introduced to the family members of the Five Points Church, Smith is now on a mission to prove he can make a horror film. This isn’t your typical “boo!” horror flick, nor is it another insert in the torture porn genre. In fact, there’s nothing in Red State that will make you want to sleep with the lights on. However, there is much in Red State that may make you feel pretty sick about the state of human nature.The fact is – these people do exist. Look up the Woodsboro Baptist Church for an example. Their “God Hates Fags” campaign has been all over the news for years. They continue to protest pretty much any funeral that will draw a television camera – and spread their messages of hatred to any and every news station that will allow them a platform. Surely these people are scary but are they dangerous? This movie takes it to the next level and says – Yes. They are.
The film is basically about three things: Sex, Religion, and Politics in the United States. In this movie its easy for an audience to root against this terrifying religious cult – but its no easy feat to root for the authorities especially when an order to “wipe them out” is delivered against the entire family, including the children. To me the “message” I feel the film has is: Be wary not to turn into the thing you hate most. Sometimes crusaders turn into the very things they are warning us against. The film portrays the government as just as hateful and vile as the family. It’s an interesting concept for sure.
The performances are phenomenal. The standout is Michael Parks as Abin Cooper, the “Fred Phelps” of the Five Points Church. This performance should be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award – no question. It’s an unlikeable character, a nasty awful man – but its a tour de force chilling performance. The best moment in the film is the sermon that Parks delivers when we first enter the church. Park’s is smart enough to know a character like this must be charming, must seem like your grandaddy, and must be able to turn on a dime. A moment like the sermon from this film is more terrifying than many full horror films of today. This speech could have easily been given by MANY American’s today. The performances from the entire cast should all be appreciated – especially John Goodman (who is always underused and always fantastic) and Melissa Leo. Sadly the movie doesn’t spend much time mapping out characters, and some of them just seem to be in the film to be mutilated right away. With such a short running time, I do wish Smith had taken more time to map out a few of these characters. But the shiny gem in the films crown is Parks and I beg all Oscar voters to see his performance before they turn in their ballots. However, as a film, Red State is a dangerously scary film.
The special features deserve an A! Smith has gathered together a lot of goodies that fans of the film will eat up, and if you didn’t care for the film, there is a chance that you will find much to enjoy in the special features listed below.
The Making of Red State – (44 minutes) Although perhaps not as thorough as it would sound, this is a series of interviews with Smith and cast members. There are some interesting tid bits here, but its actually the less interesting of all of the extras.
Deleted/Extended Scenes – (approx. 25 minutes) These are actually quite good. The complete sermon by Michael Parks is here unedited in all of its brilliance. There is also the original ending shown at the Sundance premiere. Usually when you see deleted and extended scenes on a dvd, you know its usually trash which should have stayed on the cutting room floor – this is an exception. All of the deleted and extended material is great.
Smodcast Commentaries: Red State of the Union Q&A’s – (approx. 8! hours) Rather than your usual feature length commentaries, here Kevin Smith has given you 8 hours of commentary! I am not going to pretend that I have had time to sit and listen to it all, but what I have listened to is quite informative and exciting. These commentaries are mainly podcasts that Smith had when he showed scenes of the film to a select group of fans, and then followed with a discussion q&a. Sometimes its a little confusing as they don’t always match up with whats going on at that moment on the screen, its still riveting to listen to Smith talk about his passion for the project and its background. One of the more interesting podcasts I listened to was a story about how the actual members of the Phelps family (Westboro baptist church) actually saw a screening of the film and left after about 10 minutes. Guess the truth hit home?
THE Sundance Speech – (35 minutes) This is speech that got Red State 0n the map. Depending on how you feel about Smith your reaction to this could vary. You could feel extremely inspired and want to immediately run off an pursue your passion – no matter the consequences. Or you may want to brand Smith a self-serving media whore. I think it took massive gumption for Smith to give a speech like this at this point in his career. I am glad its included on the dvd, as in the history of this film – it is what will (maybe sadly) be remembered most.
Conversation with Michael Parks – (18 minutes) This feature should be called .. why doesn’t Michael Parks already have an Oscar? He comes off so intelligent and wonderful – I just can’t get over how much I liked him in this movie.
Then you have your normal Poster Galleries and Trailer Galleries.
Although surely not the best film of the year, Red State seems on a mission to prove that Smith is a mutli-talented director – and it proves that in spades. It looks and sounds brilliant on blu ray and I would recommend it easily.