Kevin Smith’s career has been defined by films that can only be accurately classified as ‘American humour’. Right from his 1994 debut with the low-budget Clerks up until 2010’s Cop Out the man has built a tidy little resume out of attempts to make people laugh (or squirm).

And then along comes Red State. A horror movie.

Not so much in the mold of Eli Roth or Sam Raimi as it is in the vein of the evening news or the morning newspapers. And from that perspective this movie is bleak, scary, and downright surprising.

Who knew Kevin Smith had so much darkness buried inside of him.

The film is about the villians of the piece—if such distinctions are possible in a movie where almost no character possesses much redeeming value—the Coopers, led by radical preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). They live in a highly fortified compound, hold protests outside the funerals of homosexual individuals and are so extreme that neo-Nazis distance themselves from the group’s politics.

We are eased into the narrative when a raunchy night out for a trio of teenagers named Travis (Michael Angarano), Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) and  Jared (Kyle Gallner) turns into their worst nightmare when they are made guests of honour at one of Cooper’s sermon-and-execution extravaganzas.

And things only get worse from that point on.

This is a surprising movie, on many levels.

For one, it looks really good. Nothing about it screams ‘low budget’. Even the cast is peopled with enough recognizable faces to have it be perceived purely as a film without actively heralding its financial scale.

The movie is vi-ohh-lent. This has got to be the bloodiest Kevin Smith movie ever. Maybe he learnt a trick or two from working with studio budgets on Cop Out or maybe he’s been hanging out with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino a little more than usual.

The movie makes you feel bad. Like I-need-to-take-a-shower bad. And not because it is an awful movie and the viewers want money back, not just for themselves but also for the investors. No this movie left me with a bad feeling in the same way that the news makes me sick.

It is quick. Eighty-eight minutes from start to finish.

No musical score at all. Just a lot of creepy singing.


So why did I like and dislike the movie at the same time?

I didn’t like it because of that sick feeling it left me with. I also wish there had been a more elegant way of tying it all together rather than having this guy who is only vaguely related to the main story explain what really went down to people totally unrelated to it.

And I respect it because of what Mr. Smith was able to achieve. I understand what he means when he terms this a horror film. I was deeply disturbed by the implications of some of the things that were left unsaid.

And even now, almost twenty-four hours after I watched the movie, I am still recalling the clever little detonator pins he stuck into the C4 of this narrative. The after effects of those explosions are going to last a long time.