The film isn’t billed as Kevin Smith’s Red State. It’s just Red State, but Kevin Smith is an independent counterculture auteur diva so to speak. It’s pretty widely thought that Kevin Smith has a cool and honest and don’t-give-a-crap attitude. Kevin Smith is a brand, but he knows he’s not a mainstream big blockbuster brand. He is indie.
I think of Quentin Tarentino and Kevin Smith as similar. They both are super-smart geeks who educated themselves and saved themselves due to their writing. They both embrace their roots and stick close to what they grew up on. They both are names or brands or whatever name best describes an independent force. They make different kinds of films, but they are kindred spirits. They do things from the gut. They wear their heart on their sleeve. They do what they do for people who are like they are. Geeks.
Kevin Smith is probably his geekiest about comic books, and he has made runs at Superman and Batman and Daredevil and Green Arrow and Green Hornet (not Green Lantern.). That’s his kind of audience. The Comic Con audience. That brings us to what he’s doing now. He wants to market directly to his audience. He also wants to try to do everything differently. He wants to be a maverick, which he has been, but in a new way. He’s been doing Kevin Smith movies for a while, and now he wants to make a movie that’s not a Kevin Smith movie.
I’m going to talk about the movie itself in a minute, but Kevin puts so much content and information out there that there is so much to talk about besides the movie. He has comic books, websites, smodcasts, comedy tours, regular books and TV appearances of every kind. He plans to use some kind of synergy of all of that to promote. He also wants to provoke and confront the major film studio model of spending a lot of money to market a film. He also is avoiding the enormous machinery of control that has legions of people in committees second guessing the filmmaker’s every move.
So he takes this attitude to the Sundance Film Festival where he got his start with Clerks 17 years ago. He spits in the eye of all the industry types and then takes his movie out on a promotional concert tour with the goals of releasing in the theaters, all with the goal of not spending a dime on print or TV advertising.
Okay, that’s enough about that. Now we can talk about the film. Red State is not a comedy. Kevin Smith has tried to stretch a little here and there, but he does comedy. This is a horror film. It does have another motivation, and that is to deal with serious issues that have political importance. I think part of the reason why he made a horror film is to avoid any taint of pretension which Kevin Smith clearly hates. Kevin has such a different approach on every aspect of this picture that it gives him almost a giddy sense of being reborn. In a way, he’s being reborn as Quentin Tarentino. They are both writer/directors who are heavy on dialog, but normally Smith’s films are comedies that avoid violence. There is plenty of violence in Red State. There is also plenty of dialog.
There is another easy comparison here, and that is Michael Parks. Michael Parks played a couple of parts in Tarentino’s Kill Bill 1&2 and is the star of Red State. I doubt anyone will deny Parks is mesmerizing in Red State.
The story revolves around Parks’ portrayal of a radical preacher modeled on Fred Phelps who courts the media with his protests on homosexuals and other groups he deems are servants of the devil. The preacher in this film is a fictional character who takes his demented teachings to the next level, which is why this is a horror film. It also has echoes of the Waco debacle.
The other main part is John Goodman as an ATF agent confronting the preacher on his property. So this is a film that deals with politics and religion, and you know what the old saying is. You are courting controversy and argument. In other words, it is more than a horror movie. This brings up another question. If it’s more than a horror film, then is it even a horror film any more, or at least a good one? It does become a matter of emphasis. Those people who make a horror film tend to worry about the scares and the gross-out factors above all else. In Red State, I think the issues and politics become the priority and the driving force for the project.
All in all, Red State is a noble experiment and a success on all fronts. His attempt to do something different is successful. His attempts to create a more cost-effective approach to releasing a movie seem to already have worked for him. He has also mad a film that is compelling and intelligent. Is it for everyone? No, but then right now Kevin Smith is just preaching to the cult of Kevin Smith. We’ll see if he can enlarge his flock.