Red State (2011, Kevin Smith)

Watched this alongside The Ward, a double-feature of horror movies by formerly-favorite filmmakers which I expected to thoroughly disappoint. But The Ward surprised by being bland but not terrible (I heard it was terrible), and Red State surprised by being fully terrific. Starts out as a grim, bloody horror movie, three kids suckered by an internet ad promising group sex, kidnapped by a Christian cult to be executed for their immorality. Turns into a cops-vs.-crazies hostage-standoff thriller. But really the whole thing is a black comedy, gaining shock value from its willingness to kill major characters at unexpected times. It steals the tone and final scene directly from the Coens’ Burn After Reading, arguably improving it.

Kevin Smith’s best filmmaking has great comic timing but little else to recommend it, and I was worried when this started as an anonymous-looking movie about teens in peril. But then along came Stephen Root as a closeted small-town sheriff up against a house full of well-armed ragingly homophobic religious nuts, and things got immediately better. Happier still, Root calls John Goodman, who leads an FBI assault against the place with sidekick Kevin Pollack (killed almost immediately). Meanwhile inside the compound, one girl (Kerry Bishe) is slightly more enlightened than her mother (Melissa Leo) and their nutjob leader (Tarantino regular Michael Parks), tries to help the survivor of the initial three boys (Ronnie Connell, star of Signals) escape to the safety (heh) of the police. I wasn’t sure if Smith was serious about ending the movie by interrupting the standoff with blasts from heavenly trumpets signaling the coming of the apocalypse – turns out he wasn’t, but it would’ve worked fine for me either way. Distracting bonus appearance by the guy from the Mulholland Dr. diner.

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