Retrospection is a powerful tool when it comes to assessing Kevin Smith’s latest feature. When Red State was released in cinemas in September 2011, it was accompanied by a Twitter-fuelled furore after the director refused to screen the film for UK journalists and publicly aired his feelings about critics and all those who failed to appreciate or understand his work. Whether genuine tirade or publicity stunt, a cloud of controversy hung over Red State during its big screen outing. But, while Smith’s personality always casts a very large shadow over his features, the passing of time has certainly helped this film to stand on its own two feet.
After Smith’s disastrous foray into more mainstream fare with Cop Out, he’s back in familiar territory with this uncompromising horror/satire hybrid. At its core is Five Points Church, the extremely fanatical religious sect led by the utterly terrifying Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). When they are not campaigning against homosexuality, they are luring promiscuous teens to their isolated homestead and subjecting them to bloody punishment for their sins. When the local police force realise what’s going on, they call in ATF Agent Kennan (John Goodman) whose team surround the farm and attempt to bring Cooper to his knees…
As you’d expect, it’s all utterly outrageous; from the hapless victims being strapped to a cross to the shocking fate of one of the almost-survivors to an ending that’s the crazy cherry on top. But while the characters and their situations may be painted in broad, blood red strokes, the points Smith is making are rather more specific. And, as indicated by the film’s chapter titles of ‘Sex’, ‘Religion’ and ‘Politics’, it’s not just America’s religious right who are in his cross-hairs, but American culture itself. In this story, personal responsibility is virtually non-existent on both sides of the good/evil divide, the police are as reckless as the cult members, unchecked gun culture puts multiple weapons in the hands of maniacs and, in the film’s most politically overt exchange between Keenan and his superiors, constitutional rights are utterly disregarded.
The reason Red State works is because it embraces its own madness, and everyone on screen completely invests in Smith’s vision. Parks is undoubtedly at the heart of it all; in a role written specifically for him he veers from quiet menace to unrestrained insanity. It’s a virtuoso performance deserving of acknowledgement and respect whatever your thoughts on the film at large. Acting stalwarts Goodman and the wonderful Melissa Leo, cast as Parks’ equally as unhinged daughter, manage to keep their tongues in their cheeks and their faces straight, so lending the gravitas needed to keep the narrative from spinning into farce.
A white trash, balls-to-the-wall horror mishmash it may be, but Red State has far more depth than perhaps even its director would have us believe. And while some of its finer points may get trampled by Smith’s desire to offend, it’s both entertaining satire and a welcome return to form for a filmmaker with much to prove. 4 stars
Extras Both the DVD & Blu-ray contain a making of, Sundance footage, a conversation with Michael Parks, deleted scenes and poster gallery – all introduced by Smith – and the Blu-ray also features several of Smith’s Smodcasts about the film. 3 stars
As proof of just how divisive Red State is as a film, and Kevin Smith is as a filmmaker, our reviewer Naila Scargill awarded the movie 1 star when it was released theatrically. Click here to read Naila’s review.