Uneven political horror-thriller from Kevin Smith
Outspoken filmmaker Kevin Smith hit a creative and commercial low with his last studio-backed production, the Bruce Willis-starring flop Cop Out, but before that film was even released Smith had shifted focus to this long-gestating personal project. Red State defies categorisation, but could, for some of its lean running time, be described as a political horror movie. Having independently raised funds, Smith shot the film entirely on digital cameras to allow for the quickest possible turnaround. The result is an uneven and often unpleasant film that leaves a bitter aftertaste, but despite its flaws suggests Smith has rediscovered his creative mojo, and is not beyond challenging himself yet.
The film begins with a class teacher in the unspecified titular state decrying the homophobic protests of a local fundamentalist Christian church. We soon see first-hand the horrific practices of this church, led by charismatic pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks, giving a creepily authentic performance), as three teenage boys get more than they bargained for after responding to an internet post seemingly offering no-strings attached sex. Smith refashions the traditional backwoods horror movie with Christian fundamentalists as the monsters, and while subtlety is clearly not on his agenda, this is an effective and scary first half hour, expertly put together and shorn of any of Smith’s usual wisecracking comedy. But the introduction of FBI agent Joe Keenan (John Goodman) signals a distinct change in tone, and Smith abandons horror in favour of an attempt at more nuanced political drama. While his ambition is admirable, Smith’s characters – with the notable exception of Keenan – are unsympathetic caricatures, and feel too much like convenient mouthpieces for the issues he wants to tackle. An inspired and bizarre final twist almost works, until Smith pulls the rug and backtracks for a West Wing-lite philosophising conclusion.
General release from Fri 30 Sep.