When I was a young teenager, writer-director Kevin Smith's first film, Clerks, debuted and became an indie sensation. The black-and-white movie was interesting as much for its quirky dialogue as for its sophomoric humor. Smith quickly became one of my favorite film makers after Mallrats and Chasing Amy, two comedies, the first of which is about slackers at a mall and the second, about a small time comic book creator who falls in love with a lesbian.
From there, my opinion of Kevin Smith movies gets worse and worse. Still, Smith has a special role in my heart, since he spoke to my sarcastic, sophomoric self, just when that self was developing. Even now, I follow his blog and maintain my old email address, which was derived from two Smith characters both played by My Name is Earl's Jason Lee, Brody (Mallrats) and Banky (Chasing Amy).
When I heard that Smith was debuting his new film, Red State, on various platforms other than a regular movie theater release, I was intrigued. Here was a guy who was going against the system. When the film finally became available on iTunes and most cable on Demand services, I decided to check it out. And I was delightfully surprised.
Whereas most of Smith's films are comedies, Red State is an intoxicating blend of thriller/horror, with a dash of comedy for full effect. The movie is about a family who lives in the sticks, known as the Coopers. They were modeled after the Phelps family, known for their fanatical anti-homosexual beliefs ("God Hates Fags!") and protests at soldier's funerals. In Smith's film, the head of the family is played by Michael Parks, a veteran actor who somehow makes the leader of an insular, homophobic clan into a charming guy. Unlike the Phelps family, the Coopers are not just content with protests. Things get a lot more heated when the Coopers end up with a couple of neighborhood kids on their property and law enforcement at their gates.
I do not want to give away too much, since part of the joy in the film are the unexpected turns. What I can say is that this film had several moments where you knew what was going to happen, only to have something else happen instead. Whether intentional or not, this set-up-and-swerve storytelling adds richness to the story and characters, rather than feeling like a cheap way to sensationalize or shock the viewer.
I give this film a whopping 9 out of 10. The story is unique, the plotting and pacing are pitch perfect, and the acting is fantastic. If there is any negative, it was in the film's length; quite frankly, I wanted more.
Until next time, keep 'em 3.5"!