There was once a time when Kevin Smith left his Askewniverse (AKA, anything that features Jay and Silent Bob) to dabble in other things. This all basically started with 'Jersey Girl' in 2004 and carried on with 'Zack & Miri' in 2008 and 'Cop Out' in 2010. But this was all still comedy, and about the furthest we ever saw him veer off a comedic course was how dramatic 'Jersey Girl' and even 'Chasing Amy' were. So, after 'Cop Out' (which perhaps I'll review another time) bit the guy in the ass with bad reception, he decided to try his hand at real-life horror with this film.
For me, this one had a very 'Hostel' feel to it for various reasons; namely the idea of horny teenagers falling into a brutal trap. In this case, three hormone-driven dudes; Travis (Michael Angarano), Jarod (Kyle Gallner) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) are convinced that an older woman named Sara (Melissa Leo) wants to have group sex with them. Upon meeting her, Sara drugs the boys, and we are offered Jarod's perspective as he wakes up in a covered cage in the hyper-conservative Five Points Trinity Church, led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks); a hate-filled, prejudice man - especially towards the gay community. The reality of this movie pops a bit when you realize he's based on Fred Phelps; a very real and frankly scary right-wing extremist.
On their way to meet Sara, the boys manage to sideswipe the vehicle of Sheriff Wynan (Stephen Root) who gets his deputy Pete (Matt Jones) to go out to look for the vehicle that hit his. This eventually leads Pete to the church where he realizes very quickly that he's gonna need some backup, namely from Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Things eventually come to a stand-off between the authorities and the church while the boys do what they can to escape their captors. It's not exactly a plot you'd consider fresh or original, but I will admit that it's interesting to see Smith tackle not only the horror genre, but keep it in the real world (although apparently an alternate ending to this involves the Rapture).
Make no mistake on this one though - it's not a fun horror movie, despite the fact that it's directed by Kevin Smith. This is very reminiscent of torture porn, although it's not nearly as extreme as something like 'Hostel'. But the general idea that someone seeking fun finds themselves drugged and held captive in any way just points in that direction. This one also has that does of reality that, most unfortunately, there are some right wing extremists out there who are that horrifying. I can't imagine actually being gay (or for that matter, any member of the LGBTQ community) and knowing that I have these real-life Boogeymen to look out for. I have no basis for comparison on a lot of things, being a straight, white, male - but I can certainly empathize when I see a film like this, and if that was Kevin's point, it worked.
I can't really say I got a lot of entertainment value out of this one, but it was a fascinating one-off for a few different reasons. Namely, this includes Kevin breaking off from his regular comedy routine to try something new, bringing a reality to his horror, and basically just having the balls to tackle something so controversial. For me, this is one of those movies you watch once to try it out, but you don't feel much of a need to return to it any time soon. It's not something you can just watch over and over again like so many of his other films, but I'd say if you're curious about seeing Kevin flex that horror muscle, it could be worth checking out. Just bear in mind the controversial issues involved, as this one is bound to cause discomfort for a few.