Kevin Smith is much better known for his raunchy comedy than for any sort of serious work. But for his new film, Red State, he seems to aim to try something a bit new. It is admirable for a director to step out of his genre of comfort, which makes some of the flaws of Red State a bit more forgivable. Though this is a movie that’s rough around the edges, the parts where it really hits its stride certainly make the entire thing worth watching.
Unfortunately, Red State does not make an incredible first impression. The film starts with a scene in which a group of people are protesting a funeral holding up hateful, homophobic signs. It became immediately clear that there was a parallel being drawn to the Westboro Baptist Church. Unfortunately, the movie is not quite content with this, as it spends the first ten minutes absolutely beating that parallel into your head. This wouldn’t be so annoying if the movie wasn’t trying to be such a mature film – but as would be expected with a director who hasn’t ventured into the genre before, he has a little bit of trouble immediately identifying his audience, and spends a huge part of the exposition making sure that every single viewer understands what comparison he’s trying to draw. It becomes a little silly (especially because the acting and the screenplay aren’t exactly up to par) and even a bit condescending, but it’s not enough to lose interest in the film.
Spoilers aside, things start to get a lot darker from here on out. For a while the movie continues to fumble a bit with its screenplay, especially during an incredibly drawn out ‘sermon’ scene that feels extremely forced in both its desire to keep you in suspense and its actors’ tremendous ability to overact. This is a movie that does not know how suspense works, and that is one of its few major failings. Up until this point (about halfway) the movie is interesting, but mediocre.
But when the sh*t hits the fan, so to speak, this movie really finds it groove, as do the actors. What were previously exaggerated performances become terrifyingly realistic and kept me on the edge of my seat for the remainder of the film. In this scene that lasts a half hour or so, the movie is incredibly gripping and becomes exactly what I imagined that the director envisioned. Even here there are still some minor missteps, as one of the characters in particular makes extremely poor decisions designed to drive the plot forward.
Unfortunately, the film stumbles in its ending though, as the director takes a fascinating latter half and is really just unsure what to do with it. Rather than have a conclusive, shocking finale to such a morally ambiguous tale, the film takes the route of a ridiculous deus ex machina (so ridiculous that I’m honestly not sure whether it was supposed to be funny or not) and begins to introduce extraneous themes (marijuana legalization, Patriot Act) in such a laughably forced manor that I just wanted to shout at the screen, “PICK something! Pick at topic and stick with it!”
Overall though, what the film does well, it does very well, even if it takes a while to get there. There are some big flaws like an extremely forced way of portraying its themes and an inability to generate suspense for a while that seriously harm the film, but for a director who hasn’t worked with this genre before, it’s a commendable effort and one that’s honestly original enough to warrant a look.