Director: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman.
Release Date: Out now
This is not a Kevin Smith film. At least, not in the sense of what we understand a Kevin Smith film to be. Gone are the soft drugs, wry observations, dick jokes and musings on geek culture. Instead we’re offered a heavy social commentary on contemporary America in the form of a genuinely tense and chilling thriller. Make no mistake, Red State is a dramatic change of pace.
Focusing mainly on the exploits of the Cooper family, a commune of Christian fundamentalists, the film tackles weighty topics such as the hypocrisy of religious fundamentalism, the social and political scars of 9/11, and the dissolution of the American dream into a piteous sense of entitlement.
When a trio of high school boys go in search of a sleazy internet hook-up, they instead find themselves trapped within the Cooper’s Five Point Baptist Church as punishment for their lust. It quickly becomes apparent to both the boys and the audience alike that the Coopers mean business. With a bunker teeming with firearms and an unwavering belief that the end is nigh, these Christian soldiers are determined to rid the world of sin, even if it means bending the sixth commandment to do so. Following a lead that the family have been illegally acquiring firearms, John Goodman’s government agent Joseph Keenan goes to investigate. And then things get biblical.
If 1997’s Chasing Amy wasn’t enough proof already, Red State should finally silence the nay-sayers who view Smith as nothing more than a peddler of cheap humour. Aesthetically sparse and stripped-back, Smith has a created a visceral, and often distressing, picture of small-town America. Michael Parks provides a truly frightening turn as loving patriarch and murderous lunatic, Abin Cooper (Kill Bill, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), fluidly switching from apocalyptic herald, to average family man, to sociopath, and back again.
Despite being radically different from anything else in his career, Smith’s writing is as sharp here as ever; the pacing is effortless and dialogue, as always, is rich. Though there are flashes of some comedic relief (albeit dark), Smith’s focus is predominantly set on holding a mirror up to modern-day America and watching it squirm at its own reflection. Not bad for the guy who gave us ‘Pillowpants’.
In a Nutshell: Bob breaks his silence and releases an unsettling critique of contemporary America. A thriller Smith fans and haters alike can enjoy.