Written by: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor
In the aftermath Q&A at the DC Red State screening, Kevin Smith called Red State “A Tarantino movie by way of the Coen Brothers.” Not exactly what we’ve come to expect from a man known to understand the fine art of the dick joke and comic book reference, but definitely a fitting description for what I believe will be recognized as Kevin Smith’s most important film. I wrote in this column earlier about Kevin Smith’s indie distribution plan and why it matters. The DC screening at the Warner Theatre I attended was part of phase one of that plan, an (admittedly pricy) set of exclusive showings bundled with Kevin Smith himself as host.
I’ve been looking forward to the event since it was announced on Twitter, and I jumped on the presale announced to his followers and so got to settle in near the front center of the Warner Theatre. It was an unusual venue for an event like this, and it was a bit disconcerting to see a giant screen and huge speakers set up in the middle of the ornate stage. The audience, on the other hand, was definitely packed with Kevin Smith faithful. Many of them had brought out their Askew-verse collection shirts for the occasion and even Smith’s critically-maligned Jersey Girl got its share of love from fans as we waited for Smith to take the stage. It’s definitely a different way to see a movie, a step up from the midnight showing buzz to a full experience that offers a model for specialized film events that will likely become more widespread as experiments with distribution increase.
Kevin Smith introduced the film and, as the lights dimmed, perhaps my greatest fear for Red State was that the movie couldn’t possibly live up to all the fantastic stories surrounding it. For a man with no marketing budget, Kevin Smith has been blessed with the makings of fantastic press, especially at the Kansas City screening where the Phelps family showed up to protest, accepted complimentary tickets to attend, and (naturally) walked out of the movie a few minutes in. Even better, some ex-Phelps children stayed around and joined Kevin Smith on stage to talk about their experiences in the family (apparently, this talk will be up on Smodcast, Kevin Smith’s podcast network, soon and sounds truly fascinating.) With incredible moments like this, the movie could have been a second act to the tour itself.
Thankfully, it was no such thing. Without Kevin Smith having just left the stage, and the continual knowledge that he was in the balcony tweeting our reactions, it would have perhaps been easy to forget that this was a Kevin Smith production—although it certainly started on familiar lines, but quickly headed into unexpected territory. The Red State premise is not unlike a typical horror movie: three boys go searching for sex and instead find more trouble than they were looking for in the form of a religious family that, yes, bears more than a passing resemblance to the Phelps family. I believe it would be a disservice to describe any more of the plot, except to say that John Goodman (or, as Kevin Smith referred to him a few times in the Q&A, Dan Conner) is fantastic as an agent on the scene—he got a huge cheer for turning on a light, and if you were there, I admit it—those folks yelling “Woo!” when John Goodman showed up where me and my friends. His performance is a highlight in a movie filled with convincing, memorable and occasionally downright creepy characters.
The easiest film in Kevin Smith’s past to compare this movie to is Dogma, of course, though by comparison that movie’s contemplation of religion seems innocent and playful. It’s an incredible trajectory from that film to this one, and one that truly shows how much Smith has grown as a director. I’ve loved every one of his movies, but this is something new. Artistically, the film is continually fascinating—Kevin Smith mentioned afterwards that he was breaking several rules in the film school playbook, though perhaps the most noticeable is the lack of a score. The decision highlights the other sounds, like the words of a disturbing sermon or the sound of gunfire, and it definitely suits the atmosphere of the film. As the final credits played, I was ready for the wide release so I can watch it again and think further on this conversation Kevin Smith has drawn us in. As with Dogma, this movie is much more than a chance to pick on religion—it’s a different type of extremism Kevin Smith is reacting to, and he’s just as quick to unmask it in all our country’s institutions. I would have liked the chance to ask Kevin Smith (the line for the Q&A in DC was, as always at a Kevin Smith event, quick to fill and slow to move) as he points out trends like fanatics blaming tsunamis on god’s wrath on atheists, or people protesting at the funerals of homosexual youth, where does he think we’re heading? If this movie is part of that answer, let’s hope his plans for wide release is successful and the film finds an audience who can connect and consider the vision of humanity Smith has created and reflected back at us.
Kevin Smith reiterated during the Q&A that Red State is his second to last feature film: Hit Somebody, with a $15 million budget, will be marketed more traditionally as he pointed out that the investors on that film will probably be expecting a bit more than Twitter. It’s sad to think of losing Kevin Smith as a director, although if he ends on notes like this one, it’s hard to ask for any more from a career. His movement from directing to virtual radio host with the launch of his S.I.R station will be fascinating to watch. It’s clear that he still has a lot to say–and the S.I.R. format doesn’t even preclude a future where he shares his vision in film but in new ways and perhaps creating more forms and distributions along the way. Rumors surrounding the S.I.R network even offer hope of returning Askew-verse characters stepping in for cameos. Kevin Smith’s Q&A went up to the last minutes he was allowed in the venue, and still lines of dozens of disappointed people waited in hope of getting a few more of his words. Even a 24 hour station probably can’t contain all his ideas, and if this movie is a peek at the next stage of Smith’s career, I for one am very excited to see what he dreams up next.