Did someone just give Kevin Smith a brain transplant? This is meant to be the stoner storyteller who gave us Clerks and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. The guy with a great line in dick jokes but no clue what to do with a movie camera. But Red State, whatever you say about it, is the most startling movie of his career.
We start deep in Smithsville, with three sweary high-school kids driving into the woods one night to score some fun with a woman they found online. But then the trap shuts: they’re now the prisoners of a local cult of religious fundamentalists, hell-bent on executing sinners one by one. Shooting shaky-cam, Smith builds some serious tension as the kids try to escape lunatic preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) and his nutty clan. And when an armed government unit led by John Goodman is despatched to neutralise the god-toting God-botherers, Red State turns into an all-out siege movie.
Tough to talk about what follows without busting Red State’s surprises – and boy are there plenty of them. Suddenly, all bets are off. Shockingly unpredictable, Red State just keeps hitting you with OMG moments, leaving you with that rare, thrilling feeling that the movie-safety-net just isn’t there anymore – that anything could happen next.
Despite having little to do with their cardboard characters, it’s the terrific performances from Parks and The Fighter’s Oscar-winner Melissa Leo – as well as young actors Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and Kyle Gallner – that keep us locked in.
It’s really a throwaway short-story – think a rowdy, cheapskate Burn After Reading – that could have been even shorter than its 88 minutes. But the shocks and face-slaps keep coming, building to a hold-your-breath climax that exits suddenly into a funny, oddball monologue from Goodman that finally does hit the spot.
Not really a horror, not really a satire, not really anything you’re expecting. But whatever Red State is, it’s one of the most relentlessly surprisingly films we’ve seen in some time.
Red State is released Friday 30th September.
Text: Jonathan Crocker