I’ve never thought of Kevin Smith as a great storyteller. Or even a good one, really. He can write interesting dialogue lines, and give his characters fun situations, but in terms of telling a coherent narrative, he doesn’t really succeed. Red State exemplifies this as it’s his first entry into the “horror” genre. I put “horror” in quotation marks because the only scary part about this movie is the fact that it got made and released.
We open with three teenage boys looking at a “Craigslist, but with sex” site on one of their phones. One of them has been communicating with an older lady, who wants to have sex with all three of them at once. Because there’s apparently nothing wrong or weird about that (the characters never even really debate about going through with it), they decide that they’ll head to her house that night. Upon arriving, they meet her, find out she’s played by Melissa Leo, and go inside for a beer or two. She claims that a man must be drunk before she will have sex with them.
Soon enough, the boys are all lying on the ground, drugged and paralyzed. Upon awakening, they learn that Leo’s character is a member of a church known as Five Points. One of them is in a cage in plain view of everyone at a service, while the others are locked in the basement. The leader is played by Michael Parks, and after giving what seems like a ten minutes speech, he tells the children to skedaddle so that the adults can have their time. The group has apparently captured other people prior to the boys, and kill them. Why? Because they’re homosexual.
Okay, I can understand the rationale so far. There’s an obvious allusion to the Westboro Baptist Church for our villain, and the three boys are going to have to escape from the whole group if they want to survive. The villain doesn’t make a lot of sense (they’re primary goal is said to be punishing homosexuals, something that none of the boys are), but then again, they’re not supposed to make sense. A bad guy you don’t understand is scarier than the one you do. At this point, I was kind of into Red State.
It’s here when things get weird. John Goodman appears as an ATF Agent, and is told that something weird is going on inside the church’s grounds. He gathers up his crew, and soon enough, we’ve got ourselves a shootout. The churchgoers all grab guns, the army has enough weapons to take out a small country, and everything completely falls apart. The three boys are forgotten about or killed off, the whole cult aspect is neglected to focus on this gun fight, and characters completely disappear.
If Smith wanted to build up to this shootout, including the Goodman character earlier on instead of introducing him mid-way through might have been beneficial. He just shows up and gets to work, having no prior mention or inclusion. And once he does show up, the boys try to escape, and the war begins, we’re not even sure who to root for anymore. Both sides seem just as immoral as the other, even though the Five Points Church was an effective villain early on. At one point, we’re even supposed to hope they win, I think. It’s such a weird film to sit through, even though it’s such a mess when you look at it from a narrative perspective.
What starts out as a kind of horror movie morphs into flat-out action. Unfortunately, Smith isn’t a horror or an action director. His strength is writing comedic scenes. Cop Out, a film I did enjoy overall, wasn’t successful because of its action — it made me laugh, but the action wasn’t all that enjoyable. Here, we’re given a handycam filming style mixed with a lot of quick cuts, both techniques used in an attempt to make the film either more “realistic” or to hide the fact that none of the action is particularly interesting or well-made.
However, apart from this horror-action misfire, there are also a couple of scenes containing Smith’s signature comedic flare. The parts of the film where the boys haven’t yet been captured stand out for me. Despite including two or three points where Smith can actually attempt to impress us, they don’t fit when the rest of your film is made like this. There isn’t a consistent tone to Red State, nor is there anything that actually fits with anything else.
If there’s a group of people you can’t blame for this disaster, it’s the actors. While most of them fade into the background, they’re all convincing enough. Michael Parks is the star, giving it his all as the crazy cult leader. He’s so convincing that you actually start to believe some of the things he’s saying, which might be the scariest thing that Red State has to offer.
This is a complete waste of your time, unless you want to see what someone who has no idea how to make a horror/action/thriller does when creating one. Kevin Smith does comedy well, but this genre isn’t for him. It doesn’t follow a cause-and-effect chain, it doesn’t make sense whatsoever, and it is a mess in terms of practically everything that is involved in the filmmaking process. Despite this, it’s almost worth watching just to see how bad it is. I was fascinated by it, even though I was also saddened by its existence.