Review – Red State

Writer/director Kevin Smith is the cicada of the film industry. In order to explain my theory some brief facts about the cicada first. The cicada is an insect that spends most of its life underground as a nymph waiting for the day it’s fully grown and can dig itself out from under the soil. Once fully grown, they emerge from the soil and shed their skins leaving behind a shell of their former self. The final stage of the transformation involves the cicada taking flight in spectacular style making full use of a newly grown pair of wings.

Like the cicada, Smith has spent his career mulling in the underground of independent cinema where he developed a thick skin and was able to crawl into the light of Hollywood. Instead of emerging triumphant and taking flight, Smith was stuck in his shell for years indulging his ego with ‘Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back’, capitalising on famous friends with ‘Jersey Girl’, rehashing past success with ‘Clerks 2’ and feeling the wrath of the studio system with ‘Cop Out’. Can Smith ever take flight? ‘Red State’ gives Smith a chance to try something different which is refreshing, but it never soars to great heights.

A group of teenagers are invited to a caravan in the forest after receiving an online invitation for sex. Unbeknownst to them, they are being used by a group of religious fundamentalists to hammer home their extreme views. When the work of the group is brought to the attention of the FBI, a strike team led by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) is sent in to investigate.

The best part of ‘Red State’ is watching Smith do something different. Smith tries his hand at action and suspense, which produces a few good thrilling moments. The dialogue Smith is famous for is still rampant in the script, but it has an edge that’s full of political and religious undertones.

The cast is good with Goodman, Melissa Leo and Michael Parks putting in standout performances. Parks, in particular, is chilling as a religious leader who resorts to extreme measures to do what he perceives to be the work of the Bible.

But, right when ‘Red State’ starts to warm up to something great, it grinds to a halt in the final act. The bubble bursts and things start to get ridiculous. The ending is disappointing and it feels like you’re watching a completely different film.

‘Red State’ is the best film Smith has made in years because it finally shows him evolving as a filmmaker. He has been vocal in considering retirement but it feels like he’s just getting started, years after bursting onto the scene with the excellent ‘Clerks’. If retirement is on the cards, ‘Red State’ is not the perfect farewell but a bold step forward.


‘Red State’ is now showing in limited release in Australia

The Popcorn Junkie