Though now working with horror, there is no denying that this is an absolute Kevin Smith film. Take one sequence in which Preacher Abin Cooper (played gloriously by Michael Parks, but more on that in a later paragraph) performs a complete unedited sermon for his congregation. However, instead of using the great globs of dialogue to generate laughs, Smith uses them to generate something much more important: Fear. This twenty minute scene (almost 25% of the film) is one steady crescendo dread, all building up to a murderous and terrifying climax which could easily be the scariest moment of 2011.
One of the film's greatest strengths was what types of scares the film went for. This is not a horror film in the traditional sense. There are no monsters, no serial killers, and no bumps in the night. Rather, Smith sets the stakes for all the characters impossibly high, and then immediately pushes these characters into situations so intense that there is no possibility for success. You as the viewer are forced to watch as innocent people attempt to succeed and fail. But this is not done in the style of torture porn cinema, in which the joy of the film is watching those sad souls die gruesomely. Rather, the films plot is structured in such a way that these deaths are necessary, not that the deaths are structured in a way that a plot is necessary as in other horror films.
While the scares were excellent, the film was pushed from "good" to "great" by character actor Michael Parks' performance as the charismatic yet psychotic preacher Abin Cooper. In a perfect world, careers could be made off these kinds of performances. Parks' takes what could've been an average run-of-the-mill villain, and turns him into a man of which we've never seen before. With his incredible charisma along with cheery disposition, you understand why people would want to follow him. He is the Harold Hill of sinister fundamentalists.
In the Cohen brothers 2008 film Burn After Reading, the film sporadically cuts to a government briefing at a point in which the climax of the film should be. I'm attempting not to spoil to films at once, but the same happens here. However, while in that film the ending works, here it doesn't. Actually, it really doesn't. Though maybe Smith had good intentions with the film's conclusion, it instead of feeling fresh and interesting, reeks of desperation. In the film's final moments, a massive genre switch occurs, changing a horror commentary into well, nothing more than a dumb comedy. The final line in the film is even: "Shut the fuck up!" It seems that Smith created a clever plot, but didn't know how to conclude it, which is a shame because a "great" film up until the end.