Kevin Smith's Christian Fundamentalist Horror Movie: What's All the Fuss About?

Kevin Smith dove into controversy at the Sundance premiere of "Red State."

January 23, 2011, 8:29 PM

PARK CITY, Utah<br/> Jan. 24, 2011&#151; -- Kevin Smith's "Red State" was one of the most anticipated offerings of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Hours after its premiere, it's unclear exactly why.

Sure, there was the brilliant marketing campaign: Smith, the oft-maligned director of such films as "Dogma" and "Clerks" said little to nothing about the film leading up to its release. "Red State's" trailer, put out less than a month before the film's premiere, features a throaty hymn, guns galore, and fundamentalist Christians purportedly modeled after the founder and members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

That led the Westboro Baptist Church to condemn the film and promise to picket "Red State's" debut. Smith, in turn, promised to picket the picketers. Meanwhile, he drove up hype by making it next-to-impossible to score a ticket to the coveted premiere, auctioning off one of those coveted tickets for $1,000, declaring he would publicly auction off the rights to distribute "Red State," and finally revealing, post-premiere, that the auction was a publicity stunt and he plans to distribute the film through his own company, Smodcast Pictures.

It all came to a head Sunday evening, when the picketers (less than 10) faced down the Smith fans picketing them (dozens) in the parking lot of the Park City, Utah high school where "Red State" premiered. Smith joined his supporters prior to the start of the film, responding to signs that condemned him to hell with parody posters like "God Hates Rainy Days and Mondays" and "I'm a Happy Jew."

Cameras happily snapped up the scene. But as for what all the fuss was about -- what was actually in the movie -- that remained hazy. Beyond three teenage boys in search of a gangbang and a clan of Christian extremists, neither the supporters nor the detractors of "Red State" knew what the film contained.

"Kevin told me not to talk about my role," declared Melissa Leo, who plays one of the fundamentalists in the film. "So I'm not going to talk about it with you or with anyone else."

"It's very disturbing in a totally different way," said Kyle Gallner, who plays one of the three boys in search of a good time. "It's a horror movie in the sense of how evil people can be to each other. Prepare yourself. He's made a movie that's going to surprise a lot of people."

Google "Red State" now and a plethora of reviews and spoilers emerge. The cat's out of the bag; the story's out there; the critical reception is mixed. (After the premiere, one audience member lamented Smith's scattered style of directing, saying, "'Red State left me blue.'")

But perhaps the greater takeaway from the premiere is how the whole thing played out: Smith stayed coy, the Westboro Baptist Church spoke up, and scores of people -- at least one of whom shelled out $1,000 -- paid attention, even before they knew what they were paying attention to.

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