Kevin Smith’s New Horror Movie Is Thoroughly Mediocre: No One Is Shocked

Andrew Gombas, Staff Writer

“It’s gonna get, ah… grown-up in here.” So speaks psychotic preacher Reverend Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) before unleashing a whole lot of backwoods fundamentalist horror upon three unsuspecting teenagers in Kevin Smith’s new, decidedly unfunny film, Red State. Those of you who are already familiar with the film have probably heard of it due to the great deal of controversy it created with its shaky release. Kevin Smith, known for his filthy, hilarious comedies (DogmaClerksMallrats), shocked audiences when he announced that he was in the process of releasing a straight horror film. He then confused them further by announcing that he was going to auction the rights to the film off before releasing it. Then he bought the film from himself for $20, and everyone just got annoyed. Because of his baffling actions, many theaters refused to show the film, forcing him to take the movie on tour and then plan for a direct to video release in October. It is, however, currently available to rent on iTunes, which is how this young man got to experience Kevin Smith’s tour de gore.

The film, loosely organized around what would happen if the Westboro Baptist Church decided to militarize, follows three teenage boys who are solicited for sex by a woman living in Cooper’s Dell, an area reigned over by the horrific Reverend Cooper. When they arrive, the skeletal woman (played with ferocity by Academy Award nominee Melissa Leo) drugs the boys and brings them to Cooper. It quickly becomes apparent that the preacher is going to dole out some harsh penance on these boys for their “sins.” Meanwhile, a federal task force (led by the brilliant John Goodman) that has been keeping its eye on Cooper decides to move in… and all kinds of crazy comes to town.

The only reason this film works at all is because of Parks’s performance. Abin Cooper is truly a vision straight out of hell, the kind of bigot Oberlin students see only in their nightmares, and Parks works him with a sort of sadistic glee that would have made the devil himself squirm. Smith is a writer who directs, and this is brilliantly apparent in Cooper’s lengthy sermon, rising and falling at a fever pitch, always teetering on the verge of madness. Of course, with a bad guy this disgusting, you need a one hell of a good guy. Goodman delivers, perfectly embodying the tired, paunchy special agent with an annoyed vivacity that keeps the movie rolling.

The film’s real downfall, however, is that you never really have anybody to cheer for. Goodman works for about 10 minutes, although it’s hard to stay on his side when he decides to order his team to kill everyone in the house, including the hostages, after a mistake is made that could jeopardize his job. The three teens could be good, if they had lines that weren’t just whiny screams and shivers. (I’m not saying I wouldn’t whine and scream if I were in their position, but I did expect a little more character development from the man who made Clerks.)

By the time the movie ends, you are rattled and confused. Do you feel happy? Do you feel upset? You know you were entertained, but what was the message? Red State goes as far as it can on a great concept, a few great actors and entertaining cameos (fans of Breaking Bad, prepare to geek out), but in the end it becomes way too apparent that this was Smith’s first exploration into horror.

My advice? If you’re a Kevin Smith dork (and I know you guys are out there) check it out, otherwise rentDoubt and Saw and watch them back-to-back. You’ll probably get the same effect.