How have you been? I’ve been well, thanks. After quite an absence for a multitude of reasons, (including surgery and the lack of new releases that I want to see) I have returned with a special review. This weekend I had the opportunity to enjoy a screening and Q&A session by The Clerks Guy, the “S” in SModcast, Mr. (formerly) too-fat-to-fly himself, Kevin Smith. First off, let me say that I do not want to do Red State a disservice, so I will not be providing too many details of the film. I will say that if you enjoy horror and psychological thrillers with some action, go see Red State upon its wide release in October.
If you are a regular listener to SModcast, there will be very little new information here. If you have not followed how this film has developed, I find it completely fascinating. Rather than sell the film to a distributor, Smith is releasing Red State under the SModcast banner. Why? Because Red State is a little $4 million independent film, and Smith is aware of the historical box office limitations of his films. Rather than allow a distributor to spend multiples of the cost of the film on an advertising campaign, Smith is calling on his audience to spend some extra cash, come to an early screening with a Q&A, and then spread the word in anticipation of the wide release.
I understand that people have varying opinions of Smith, his work and the way he is releasing this film. To me, Smith has identified the strength of his audience and his draw as an entertainer, and has harnessed this using his podcast network to pay for part of the film prior to its release. For all of the crap (that’s the industry term) Smith has taken for his distribution method and the false auction at Sundance, I believe it was a very smart move. Yes, it goes against the Hollywood norm, but it opens the doors for other independent filmmakers to avoid the big studios and release a truly independent film. In a time where all marketing strategies are changing, Smith is taking a calculated risk on a smaller film and it has the potential to change the film industry. I’m not oblivious enough to think that this will change the industry by itself, but it is a step toward potential change.
With the announcement that Red State would be Smith’s next to last film, aside from the audible gasp from Smith fanboys (myself included) I worry that people are already dismissing Red State and looking forward to Hit Somebody and beyond. Let’s focus, and then we can talk about the future.
Red State is being marketed as a horror film and for many that description will fit. To those that like to sub-categorize until every film has its own genre, you will disagree and possibly call it a psychological thriller or action flick. I’m comfortable with the horror label.
Red State begins with the introduction of three high school teens on a mission to get laid. Meanwhile, we see the Five Points Trinity Church, a Westboro-Baptist-like church whose members are protesting a funeral.
The three teens get mixed up with Five Points Trinity with uncomfortable results. Uncomfortable is the best word I can use, because everything about this film is uncomfortable. The atmosphere set shows Smith’s growth as a filmmaker, and choices such as the lack of score help some of the reveals and unexpected events hit hard. In fact, there are at least three moments that sucked the air out of the room. Smith knows his audience so well, that after one, we were laughing no more than twenty seconds later.
The three teens deliver believable performances; the younger stand-outs are Kyle Gallner and Keri Bische. Michael Parks is, as always, outstanding, as is John Goodman, and these two performances alone make it hard to believe that this film was as cheap, relatively, as it was.
Go see this in October, if for no other reason than to support a truly independent film. For the fans of the Smith comedies, Red State is like nothing he has made before. I also encourage you not to seek out plot information or spoiler-filled reviews. Going in “blind” helps the potential impact of this film.
How much would I pay to see it again? Out of $10, I would pay $10, but keep in mind that I’m a Smith fan.
Jay Fralick is the co-host of the Wanna Watch a Movie? Podcast
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