January 24th, 2011 - by Alyse Wax
Let's be honest: day four of Sundance had one story and one story only: Red State. So let's get right to it.
As promised, religious extremist sect Westboro Baptist Church was on hand to protest Kevin Smith's religious horror film. The film follows a trio of slacker boys who run into an extremist priest and his flock who use any means necessary to convert the heathens. The preacher in Red State is considered by many to be inspired by WBC leader Fred Phelps.
According to the local ABC news affiliate, the WBC stopped at a few neighborhood churches for quick protests (might as well, if they are in the area) before hitting Sundance. There were only about a dozen or so WBC protesters, and anywhere from 60-100 counter-protesters. Aside from the media circus, by all accounts it was a peaceful protest, with vitriol saved for the signs. WBC members carried their signs with tried-and-true (and unimaginative) slogans like "God Hates Fags" and "You're Going to Hell." Counter-protesters carried uglier signs (Sharpie on posterboard, whereas the WBC had professional, printed color signs, ready to go at a moment's notice), but with catchier slogans: "Thor Hates Straights" and "God and Gays Agree: Polyester is a Sin." I have been unable to find many photos so far. I pulled a few that have been floating around Twitter; since they have been re-Tweeted so many times, I do not know who to give credit to (my apologies to the photographers).
Kevin Smith promised to auction off Red State to the highest bidding distributor at the film’s end. Instead, he went on a diatribe about the state of the film business, then auctioned it off - to himself, for $20.00. He plans to take the flick on a domestic tour, playing across the country in venues like Radio City Music Hall. The film will then get a national release on October 19th - the 17th anniversary of the release of his first film, Clerks. Smith also declared Red State his second-to-last film. After Hit Somebody releases in 2012, he will focus on distributing under his Smodcast Pictures banner.
As for reactions to the film? So far, mixed. Film.com, SlashFilm.com, Hollywood Reporter, and ScreenJunkies.com loved its performers (namely Michael Parks and Golden Globe winner Melissa Leo), and loved it for being visceral, intense, and ballsy. Moviefone.com and Indiewire.com were middle-of-the-road - they thought the performances were brilliant but the story weak. HitFix.com, CinemaBlend.com, Aintitcool.com, and Variety all hated it. Some complaints: the film was heavy-handed and obvious in its religious commentary. It was too dialogue-heavy. It wasn’t a real horror film. Basically, for being a Kevin Smith film. It was hard to tell if some of that vitriol was coming from a genuine dislike of the film, or a backlash to the hype and the bait-and-switch selling tactics.
Red State screens again on Monday, so I am sure more reactions are to come.