Red State opens with three teenage boys devoid of sexual experience (in the way that teenage boys in films always are), deciding to travel out to a place called Cooper’s Dell under a promise: lying in wait for them is a woman who will teach them all they need to know about the sexy act. But that’s not all Cooper’s Dell holds; it’s also home to an infamous, right-wing Christian family led by the malevolent Aben Cooper (Michael Parkes). And it turns out that these two facts are not entirely unrelated.
In what is quickly revealed to be a honey-trap, the lads are landed in a sticky situation (not the one they were hoping for) – bound, gagged and in the middle of Aben Cooper’s own personal version of Judgement Day. When a local policeman arrives at the compound to investigate a car crash involving the three teens and the local sheriff that happened moments earlier, his suspicions are aroused upon hearing the sound of gunshots. Cutting a long story short, the FBI are alerted and
a full-on bloodbath ensues.
So far, so not-sounding-like-Clerks-at-all right? Well, not exactly. Whether it be a convenient store, or a mall, or the home of a gun-toting religious family, Kevin Smith has the innate ability to inject real kinetic energy into a single space. Imagine Dog Day Afternoon if the diplomacy of Charles Durning and the nerves of Al Pacino were replaced by loads of heavy artillery. Smith has always made action films, it’s just that previously the action has existed in the character’s heads. In Red State, it’s right on the screen, brilliantly choreographed and a joy to behold.
Also, as is to be expected from Silent Bob, the script is water-tight throughout. If any budding screenwriter wants a lesson in how to introduce a character, they could do a lot worse than to listen to Aben Cooper’s opening speech, delivered by an actor who doesn’t put a foot wrong. If there is any justice in the world, Michael Parkes should be at the top of the Academy’s list come award-season. The parallels between Parkes and crew and the infamous Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church haunt every shot; reminding us throughout that the dark world Smith presents is no fantasy. The jokes are there too, of course, with Smith constantly trying to catch his audience out by peppering this unsettling, dark, bloody onslaught of a movie with subtle one-liners and more crude asides.
I single out Parkes for special mention as much of the film‘s drama rests on his shoulders, and he is truly impeccable, creating a villain who is warm, affectionate, even loving, at the same time as being horribly, violently evil. However, the whole cast is sensational: John Goodman cuts a defiant figure as FBI agent Joseph Keenan, Melissa Leo is a fragile, unstable mess as Sara Cooper and also, though a minor part in comparison, Stephen Root provides moments of real comedy and devastating tragedy as the town sheriff. To know that the majority of this cast will be returning for Smith’s final outing, the hockey-movie Hit Somebody, can only be good news.
When Kevin Smith made that speech at Sundance last year and announced he was going to distribute Red State himself, he wrote himself into film history. The tragedy would have been if the movie didn’t live up to the groundbreaking context surrounding it. Thankfully, it does, and in doing so it happens to be one of the best films to have come out this year. So what if the posters aren’t that shiny? Every penny spent on this film went into making it a stunning work of art, and that simply cannot be said of anything else right now.