Bearing in mind the religious tones in Kevin Smith's latest, it's apt that the phrase "damned if you, damned if you don't" squarely applies to it.
Known for his "slacker" movies - Clerks, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Mallrats - the response when it was believed he was moving into possible "slasher" terrority was mixed to say the least. And upon release, that response is still very mixed.
If this wasn't from him, there's no doubt that Red State wouldn't be poured over with such a fine tooth comb from fans and critics alike. We want something different but more of the same and when the different comes along, that can be confusing. Not unlike the genre meshing that this effort brings to the screen.
What starts off as a small-town teen coming-of-age flick with 3 boys arranging a "simultaneous" experience in a neighbouring area in the middle of nowhere, takes a turn for the worst and then squarely heads into the genre that the likes of Hostel and Saw have over saturated in recent years. The horror element comes into play as the over-faithful clergy try to clear the world of all that is sinful to their interpretation of the scriptures - from gay through to multiple partners.
It's here that Smith makes his boldest stand with a possibly overlong segment involving the (admittedly stunning powerhouse performance of Parks) preacher's sermon that tries to explain their rationale and actions that are graphically demonstrated upon the screen. Even TV's Dexter would squirm at their methods. Then, just when you're all geared up for a nerve-shredding continuation of which of the boys will escape and survive the bible-bashing bastions barrage, Smith throws in his cards and starts a whole new, different game.
Then the screen goes black opening up on Goodman's "screwed from the beginning" ATF agent who is given the task of investigating forcibly the compound of Parks and the sounds of gunfire within. The film then switches to an out-an-out gunfire battle that refuses to let-up. With the sound of bullets equalling those of Saving Private Ryan picking off unexpected characters left, right and center, the tension is only broken with welcome-but-dark humour as Goodman shouts down the phone to his boss as all hell breaks lose that "his word is not good enough" and that he requires a text or an email at least saying that he's been told to storm the compound so his back is covered when it all goes wrong!
The ending is so Smith - think Dogma - that it comes as a surprise as everything before it has been so unlike his previous efforts, but the sudden change of scenery, mood and tone is still none-the-less brave and interesting and I for one, applaud him for trying something different. Besides, a film that has a line such as "he's built a great wall of b*llshit around the property... Yes sir, like the one in China," cannot be all bad!
UK release date: 30.09.11