The Sunday Scaries are upon us once again! Yes, as the weekend concludes, most of us feel an oncoming sense of anticipatory dread about the week ahead. Anxiety about work manifests itself into a feeling that’s known as the Sunday Scaries. However, we at Awards Radar are here to combat that, by taking back the name. Now, we want you think about a horror-centric piece on the site when you hear the term. So, let us continue on with another installment of the Awards Radar Sunday Scaries! Today, we officially start up the miniseries within this series that I teased, one that concerns a favorite filmmaker of mine…
Yes, it’s time to get this thing underway. A few weeks ago, I previewed this sub-series within the column (here). Today, it officially kicks off! For the first installment of this look at Kevin Smith‘s horror output, I’m talking about Red State. Smith’s first true genre offering (give or take going the full romantic dramedy route previously, as opposed to straight comedies) is as much a thriller as it is horror, but the scares are there. Frankly, they’re scary because of how based in reality they are. The story of a group of horny teenagers stumbling upon a religious cult with a deadly agenda, before getting trapped between them and overzealous government agents, is something you’d sooner expect from the Coen Brothers than Smith. That’s part of its genius, too. As you’ll see below, this is an underrated flick, as well as one of the best Smith has ever made. Consider this as much as anything a yearning for more people to check it out (though more on the challenge of that later).
Red State came about in an unusual way. Made independently after The Weinstein Company passed (reportedly, Harvey Weinstein saw it as a Dimension project for Bob Weinstein, while Bob saw it more as an indie for Harvey to handle), Smith also utilized the marketing tools he learned while working on Cop Out at Warner Bros. Debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, Smith shocked many when, after a fairly positive reception, he sold the movie to himself. Unfortunately, this stunt sort of poisoned the well when it came to the flick. Instead of being judged on its own terms, it was a means for pundits to pick on a filmmaker they were annoyed at. That’s a shame, too, since this is supremely well-crafted cinema, and I’m not just saying it as a Kevin Smith fan. This is just sharp storytelling, through and through.
The film is one of Smith’s smartest, as well as his most nihilistic. You don’t expect the Clerks guy to make something bleak, but he’s effectively channeling the mood of the country at the time, even if he somewhat dismissed any overt political statements. Plus, it features some of his best directed performances. Michael Parks rightly was seen as an Oscar snub by Smith for his turn as Pastor Abin Cooper, as he’s a master at work. However, John Goodman is just as good and sadly ignored by the Academy as well. His ATF Agent Joseph Keenan also gets an incredible monologue at the very end. His final line stays with you, summarizing the movie in a way that you want to stand up and applaud.
Smith does a great job of subverting expectations. The body count is unexpected, with several deaths being genuine shocks. The plot takes a number of turns, as if Smith makes sure that whenever you think you know where the film is going, he flips it on its axis. The cleverness of the work never seems showy, either. It’s just a project that’s about to do a lot, both with limited time and money, but also with a very tightly focused premise.
Horror-wise, Red State is more unsettling than scary, but it’s undeniably at least adjacent to the genre. It’s not a fright flick that will leave you quaking in your boots, but knowing that the Five Points Church is only one step more extreme than the Westboro Baptist Church is incredibly disturbing. Moreover, it was Smith dipping his toes in the horror genre. The movies to come from him would go deeper down the rabbit hole of terror, so it’s an important landmark of his career, too.
For what it’s worth, it’s really difficult to find Red State to watch, so my recommendation may prove a challenging one. If anything, it’s further proof of how much this film is being slept on. So, while you may have to seek it out, I can’t stress enough how worthwhile of an experience that it is. Trust me, it’s something to invest your time in…
Stay tuned for the next installment in this Sunday Scaries sub-series, when I turn my attention to Kevin Smith’s more overtly horrific outing…Tusk!
Thoughts on Red State? Exciting for the upcoming piece on Tusk? Let us know!