'Red State' – Kevin Smith's Religious Action Thriller Is Not What You Expect [Sundance Video Blog And Review]

Kevin Smith's new film Red State is more than just a departure from his trademark comedic style. It's almost a complete 180. The bright colors and pop culture references have been replaced with blacks, reds and long monologues about scripture. Smith's still very reliant on the spoken word – almost to a fault – but now he balances it with machine guns, blood and hand held camera moves. This is a maturing, confident Smith who proves, after Cop Out, he still has a unique voice. With Red State, that voice isn't saying anything incredibly groundbreaking, and at times it gets a tad preachy, but the director has expanded out of his comfort zone and given audiences a genuine piece of art.

Read the rest of the review and watch a video blog featuring Peter Sciretta and Jeff Goldsmith of Creative Screenwriting Magazine after the jump.

Red State begins with a conceit that sounds very much like the Kevin Smith of old. Three friends, played by Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and Kyle Gallner, decide to take out Mommy's car because a girl on the internet has promised to sleep with them. And while Smith couldn't resist throwing in some of his classic sex dialogue, this is no Clerks 2 donkey show. The boys are drugged and brought to a fundamental church called the Five Points ran by Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Much like Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, which gets name dropped in the film, Cooper preaches that homosexuals are the devil and the world does everything it can to encourage their power. The boys who've been captured will be punished for the sins of the world and we're lead to believe they aren't the first, nor last.

After an intriguing opening, Red State grinds to a screeching, 10-15 minute halt when we first meet Cooper. Smith, as well as Parks, is obviously in love with this out-there madman and they relish their moment to introduce him in his element. So he begins to preach. And preach. And preach. Parks completely transforms into Cooper during this scene, but not even the best actor alive could be that captivating for that long. Once he addresses the caged boy in the room though, the film picks up the pace extremely quickly and remains tense throughout. Smith likes to call Red State a horror film, but I'd more accurately describe it as a religious action thriller.

Yes, I said action. Red State is filled with death, violence and gun fire. And more death. Smith isn't quite Michael Mann or even Michael Bay with his action scenes – there are a lot of medium shots of the actors firing machine guns – but they're intercut with other examples of visual panache.

All the while, the film dances around the obvious closed mindedness of Cooper and the Five Points, who include characters played by Melissa Leo and Kerry Bishé, but the whole thing doesn't end up going where you think it will. The film's conclusion is a series of surprising events that are simultaneously involving and thought-provoking

After the film, Smith announced that this is his penultimate work as a director. While it's far from perfect, when he retires he can certainly be proud to have made something both surprising and thought-provoking.

The film hits the road beginning March 5 and will tour the country before opening more traditionally on October 19.

/Film Rating – 7 out of 10

And here's the video blog starring Peter Sciretta and Jeff Goldsmith of Creative Screenwriting Magazine. You can also read David Chen and Peter Sciretta's initial reactions here.

Note: In the video Peter says Red State is Smith's best film since Jersey Girl — he actually meant to say Chasing Amy.