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October 19, 2011

Movie Review: Red State (2011)

I've often said that nobody can go into a dark place like a comedian can. You might think of him as a writer, director, or more recently, a podcaster, but if you really look at everything he's done, Kevin Smith is a comedian. From Clerks to SModcast, everything he's done has involved comedy, whether it's in writing or directing, the occasional acting gig or his live Q&A sessions. When I heard that Kevin Smith wrote and directed a horror film, I was extremely excited. Every good comedian eventually ends up in a dark place. Sometimes it's in real life, but thankfully it often manifests itself in brilliant entertainment.

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Red State uses the Phelps family of the Westboro Baptist Church as its base. These are the people that protest funerals of soldiers and people that they feel enable or support homosexuality. If they're still somehow around in six decades, I'd be proud to be a target of their stupidity. Anyway, we see the Cooper family protesting a murdered gay man's funeral as young Travis heads to school. During lunch, one of Travis' friends, Jarod, explains that he met a woman online that wants to have sex with them and a third friend, Billy Ray, all at the same time. What happens when they meet this woman should be enough to scare you away from online dating for at least a year.

Kevin Smith set up a theatrical run to make the movie eligible for Oscar contention. He did this for one reason: Michael Parks. His turn as Abin Cooper, the head of the religious family, is stellar. He is terrifyingly convincing. If he doesn't get a nomination for best actor, then I'll be thoroughly convinced that the Oscars are rigged. Another great performance comes from John Goodman. To be honest, I can't think of a bad performance from him in a movie since he started hitting the serious roles. A surprising performance comes from Kerry Bishé. During the entire movie, I kept trying to figure out how I knew her. She was the clumsy and quirky lead in the Scrubs spinoff. You wouldn't know it was the same girl. Throw in recent Oscar winner Melissa Leo, a silent but unnerving performance from Smith's podcasting partner Ralph Garman and the always entertaining Stephen Root and Kevin Pollak, and you really have an amazing cast.

The only problem I have with this movie is that it is being called a horror movie. I actually saw it as a very intense drama. While watching it, I felt like I was looking into what an extremist family could become, and I also felt like I had some insight into the Waco Branch Davidian incident. There are more "holy shit" moments in this movie than you expect. There is even a lesson to be learned. There are no innocents. I know Kevin Smith has one last movie to make, but I hope he rethinks retiring from film. I think he needed a genre change to kick start a new era. Red State was damn good, and I'd love to see more like it.

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