Title: Red State
Directed By: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun, Melissa Leo, Michael Parks, Anna Gunn, Matt L Jones, Stephen Root, Kerry Bishé, Ralph Garman, John Goodman, Kevin Pollak
Thanks to a great deal of unusual and somewhat off-putting hype, it’s nearly impossible to go into Red State without any preconceptions. There’s no denying Kevin Smith made some questionable decisions during Red State‘s road to the public, but, in the end, how can you judge him when he managed to deliver? On a B-movie level at least.
Travis, Jarod and Billy-Ray (Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner and Nicholas Braun) are teenage boys and – surprise, surprise – they want to have sex. One tracks down a potential candidate on a website who’s willing to take on all three. The boys seize the opportunity and head out to their mystery woman’s humble abode, a trailer in the woods. Psyched to get down to business, the trio’s caught off guard when they’re drugged and wake up in the clutches of the Five Points Church.
No, this isn’t any old congregation. The members of the Five Points Church are religious fundamentalists willing to do whatever it takes to rid this Earth of those they’re fighting against with a relentless viciousness. Trapped in the church, the boys are forced to watch while Pastor Cooper (Michael Parks) executes a man, leaving the impression that they’re next.
That’s only part of the story and that part of Red State is good fun along the lines of a campy slasher flick. Our main men are goofy yet likable high school kids with a rational goal. When their harmless fun turns violent, this instant connection makes the situation all the more troubling. Then, in comes Parks’ Pastor Cooper and things really get freaky. Cooper might as well be foaming at the mouth when delivering his sermon. There’s malice behind each and every one of his words most of which are disturbingly expressed in an almost loving tone. Rather than ease the tension, this combination makes Cooper’s threat overwhelmingly shocking.
Trouble comes about mid-way through the movie. Without spoiling anything, connections are lost and Red State almost becomes an entirely different film. Most of this portion of the piece is led by John Goodman as Special Agent Keenan. He’s had an inkling something’s been brewing over at the church, but hasn’t had cause to take action until now. What results is an all-out firearm free for all and the imagery is disturbing in a terrifyingly humorous way. Just picture an older and rather homely looking women picking up a machine gun and firing round after round at a group of federal officers. That’s the kind of action the latter portion of Red State has to offer and for those with a pension for shoot ‘em up-type action, it’s a blast.
On the other hand, in terms of engagement on a deeper level, Red State might as well be starting at the beginning because now Keenan is presented as the #1 player and we barely know him. Goodman does a solid job selling the character and Keenan himself comes with quite a bit of emotional baggage, which serves him well, but he finds himself in the middle of a situation that seems too extreme, even for this movie. Then, that plot point is taken a step way too far by almost turning Red State into a satire.
Red State’s main problem is Kevin Smith’s tendency to take things a bit too far. For example, the first time we’re in the church, a good 20 minutes of film is dedicated to the pastor’s sermon. This could have worked had Cooper’s speech not been so repetitive and nonsensical. We get the gist of what his thought process is within five minutes of the delivery. Cut it there and move onto the action. Speaking of cutting, some of the editing in Red State is notably jarring. Perhaps there were some on-set coverage issues, because quite a few shots transition from a wide shot of a particular character to a medium or close-up of that same person, an editing choice that can be quite distracting.
On the other hand, Smith also has quite a bit of appropriate fun with the camera. There are some well-placed shots during which characters are followed by the camera mid-sprint and a number of notably effective point-of-view shots. Smith also makes use of the horrifyingly absurd scenario, putting his characters in terrifying, yet the slightest bit amusing positions in terms of lighting and blocking. As for casting, Smith hits a homerun all around as not only does he get solid performances from each and every cast member, but he’s assembled a group that is clearly giving this piece 110%.
Red State is flawed; there’s no denying that. However, Smith manages to find a unique balance between campy fun and disturbing violence that makes the film a sick and twisted experience you can oddly enjoy. It’s got thrills, psychos, buckets of blood and is relentless through and through. Red State is horror movie junky approved.