Having been a fan of That Kevin Smith since the beginning of his career, I wondered when, if ever, Kevin would branch out to something more than the familiar background of New Jersey and Jay and Silent Bob characters. For example, Spike Lee is another director who I have admired who directed many films that focused race relations with New York as its backdrop. There is no reason to stop doing what you’re good at but there needs to be a time for growth. Miracle at St. Anna was Spike’s first “traditional” war movie with traces of Spike’s usual race relations angle which made for a compelling movie.
Shifting back to Kevin, with all his films, Kevin’s love of dialogue, which he always excels in writing it, Red State plays into his strong religious background. A previous example is Dogma which was incredibly fun film to watch. However, Kevin had Jay and Silent Bob were in the mix of the Dogma storyline. Not that I don’t love Jay and Bob but I was compelled by his views and arguments of religion. Kevin is also the same way in real life when I’ve listened to many episodes of his podcast – Smodcast. I forget which one of the shows he talked about Red State and couldn’t wait to see it. Some time had passed and then came Cop Out. I can deal with stupid crap and concepts but this film, which Kevin directed, was totally unwatchable and that is all that I will say on that. So, having scan through my Netflix account, under new arrivals, there was Red State. Now, having just finished watching it – twice, I am glad to say that Kevin has arrived in a new place in his career and this makes me really happy.
Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.
********Spoilers Ahead…. Sort of*******
What starts off as this generations Porky’s, quickly turns into an issue of blind faith of beliefs. Growing up as a teen, I was self absorbed and focused on the inner world of school and my friends. I had done things without thinking or did not care about the consequences of my actions. So, it is of no surprise when we find our three teens, Jarod, Billy-Ray, and Travis on the road for a sure thing to have sex with an older woman. The fact that they have to travel quite a bit, during the night, and then get into a bad bender fender with another car was not enough to shake them from going to their final destination. As things go from bad to worse, the teens find in the presence of the old woman Sarah. After a brief intro, Sarah breaks the tension by telling the boys how they want to get into the devil’s business and that the devil is in the trailer. Naturally, the teens think nothing of this except that they want to have sex and walk right in. Again, blind faith of their belief that nothing is going to happen other than a good time. But the beers they were offered was drugged and begins the nightmare.
Having seen movies that take place in the backwoods, Blair Witch, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I Spit on Your Grave, you know things will not end well. Jarod finds himself in a covered cage and is scared as hell as he has no idea where he is except he hears a hymn. While one would think, he is safe, Cooper the leader of this church starts to spew his beliefs against gays and homosexuals. As Cooper goes on, there is a man ball gagged and saran wrapped to a cross. In an effort to carry God’s will, Cooper orders the execution of this man. I will not say how it is done as this was one of the few moments that took me by surprise. As Jarod saw this, he was next. What was more terrifying was how the congregational made up white men and women also included children in the mix. They too were under the same blind belief of their faith as their parents and their leader Cooper. This will prove to be their undoing as much as the teens met their demise.
In the third act, we get ATF agent Keenan who is called in to the church compound. We get more than just shades of the incident of Waco but another full blown repeat of history. Keenan is given the order from the higher ups to take out the compound and leave no witnesses. Rather than accept blind faith of belief in the law he swore to protect, Keenan questions the decision. He is the only character in the entire film that thinks for himself. While being fired upon from the compound, he wanted something in writing to ensure protection for himself and his field office. When all things were said and done he did not want to be made sacrificial lambs to the slaughter when the proverbial shit hits the fans. Yet, Keenan makes himself believe that is an order he has to accept. When another tactical officer brings up the same ethical argument Keenan struggled with earlier, Keenan goes through the motion of this thing that has to be done. Yet, it is his tactical officer that does goes ahead and kills a teen couple escaping the compound; which one of them was Jarod. Keenan can not will himself to belief what he is doing is right. Just as things were going to get worse for the churchers, we get a twist in the story what made my jaw drop. This would prove to be Cooper’s downfall. I am not going to spoil it here but it does ties the movie further about blind faith.
Overall, the movie really surpassed my expectations and was a really departure from what Kevin has done in the past. I highly recommend this movie based on Kevin’s directing, writing, great cinematography, and the performance of Michael Parks as Cooper.