Red State (2011)

30 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Red State” is yet another ambitious project by Kevin Smith (“Dogma”) to try his hand at many story aspects that are as complicated as anything else you’d see in an overstuffed picture. However, he plays more to his own hatred of many things that his detractors seem to let loose on him—they’re mostly boycotters who take offense in his story ideas and constant profanities in his scripts. Smith practically refers to them as idiots, dullards, and hypocrites. “Red State” can be seen as an attack on those kinds of people. Its antagonists are all horrible in their own ways, despite constantly claiming that they’re better than most people, and they get their comeuppances because they go too far. But what the others, the ones we’re supposed to root for, realize slower than we do is that they all have their flaws as well. The antagonists in “Red State” are more than hypocrites—they’re psychopathic killers running by their own rules. They’re a religious cult, led by pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), who, as we discover in one of the longest acting monologues in movie history, believes that the best way to rid the world of sinners, particularly homosexuals and horny teenagers, is by executing them. He preaches the “good word” to his subjects as he explains why these people must die, right here in front of them (even when children are present). They tie their latest victim to a central pole on the stage, wrap him up in cellophane, and leave an open spot on the tip of his head so they can use a gun and shoot it, using the cellophane to keep blood from spilling on the floor. Watching this sequence, I recall the reason the thriller “Frailty” frightened me—the idea that people do dastardly deeds in this world (because of what they believe will happen in the next) is very chilling. The pastor is completely off his rocker (I’m hoping) and his followers are just as sadistic. Before the moment of doom, one of the female attendees chants repeatedly, “Send the sinner straight to hell, send the sinner straight to hell.” And did I mention that this group has full weaponry hidden in their basement?

The group’s latest prey is a trio of horny high school teenagers (Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, and Nicholas Braun). As the movie opens, they’re looking online at a site that is like “Craigslist for people who want to get laid,” as one of them states. That night, they drive to a trailer in the middle of nowhere to meet a middle-aged woman—Cooper’s daughter Sara (Melissa Leo)—guaranteed to put out with all three of them. But it’s a trap—she drugs them, has Angarano and Braun tied up downstairs, and has Gallner put in a cage on display in the auditorium so he can get a good dose of the cult’s deeds.

“Red State” starts out as a teenage sex comedy, develops into a parable of heavy fundamentalist groups, as well as a horror film, and then turns into an action picture, as John Goodman, quite good playing an ATF agent who, after a series of complicated reasons, has a team set up outside the church. This leads to a full-out attack in which the cult members and the agents fire their artillery at each other. Many people perish, others get deserved comeuppances, and the rest learn something about themselves that they didn’t want to realize. All I can say is that the characters that are stupid, hypocritical, or judgmental (some of which are all three) are on display here, and the movie is a direct attack on them. The teenagers become the prey after hoping to be potential sexual predators, the religious cult is all for peace on Earth even though they’re engaging in brutal murder and bloody shootouts, and the agent knows his actions are most insubordinate, as the killings of those from the congregation were more personal.

“Red State” is all over the map in its storytelling. Nothing about this movie is consistent, except for the chilling performance by Michael Parks as the rambling, delusional fanatic who takes joy in appeasing his angry god by killing all who aren’t worthy. This man makes Adolf Hitler look like a tea party guest. There’s not a rooting interest for the three kids when there should be—in fact, the movie just forgets about them, even though it starts with them. The action at the end is too brutal without much of a purpose. I’m all for parables that say something worth telling, but “Red State” is mainly an ambitious mess.

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