Michael Parks’ character is introduced to us early in the film, playing a fire and brimstone cult leader-preacher by the name of Abin Cooper. Upon his entrance, the viewer is greeted with a 10 minute monologue of Cooper giving a straight-up sermon on the sins of the world and the corruption of man. This was a make or break point for me, I didn’t know how Smith was going to portray this radical christian group. Most filmmakers would only make them seem crazy or goofy, but there’s conviction in Cooper’s sermon that suggests that even he has convinced himself of the ideas he preaches. There is no indication that the people in Cooper’s church are just going along with these outrageous principles, they believe every word. The horror of the film relies on your understanding that people like this actually exist. Kevin Smith took some notes on the Waco, TX affair and Jonestown. Let it be known, this film is not entirely fictional.
There’s been a mountain of controversy surrounding Red State’s release for almost a year. Kevin Smith (who I do like) did not help matters by spilling hate through his twitter feed about issues he had with radicals on both religious and political sides. Kevin finally went as far as to have this film distributed by himself, whatever the case may be, it made Smith look at bit silly. Hearing all this business made me doubt the potential of Red State, but I kept my head up because I wanted this movie to really be something special. Red State speaks to Smith as a writer, and while not all the themes get across to you, this is probably his best piece of work yet.
Red State’s narrative gets quite complicated but I’ll try to explain the events that catapult the rest of the film in motion. Three horny high school friends are eager to get laid. The one teen named Jared (Kyle Gallner) uses a social networking site to help get him and his friends “fucked” (haha, clever use of foreshadowing!). They agree to drive into Coopersdell where they will all have sex, at once, with an older woman. Along the way, the teens scrape alongside the sheriff’s civilian car. After seeing the sheriff with another man in the damaged car, the kids run off panicked, more concerned about hormones. The boys arrive at the woman’s house where she gives them beer that’s been drugged, they then they pass out. The teens wake up in Five Points Chruch where Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) is the residing and insane cult leader. Meanwhile, the sheriff sends his deputy out to find the car that hit him. The deputy finds the car at the church, which leads to an escalation of violence.
Kevin Smith knows how to write dialogue, whether it’s in something comedic or it’s in one of his latest comic book series (Batman, Green Hornet). Red State is no exception, with compelling and downright beautiful dialogue that kept my mind from wandering. Horror films can get rather dull when it comes to dialogue but Smith makes you believe every character in this film. Cooper’s legit sermon is a monumental and iconic scene for the movie, the realism suspends any disbelief you might have. You or someone you know can probably attest to how frighteningly real Cooper seems, as if you could see a man like that on any given Sunday. John Goodman, who plays ATF Agent Keenan, is another highlight of Red State. He, like Parks, has some great monologue scenes that have him talking to his boss on a Blutooth headset. You, as the viewer, are in the dark as to what the man on the other end is saying but Goodman lets you know very well what’s up with facial expressions and realistic dialogue. What I mean by realistic, is that the dialogue is not used as a clunky way to keep the story progressing, it’s used to define Keenan’s personality. I have to say that Goodman’s really starting to show his age but damn is on top of game in this movie. The perspective of the film continually shuffles from one protagonist to the other, and while all the stories are important, it seems that this is Agent Keenan’s story. He comes in a bit later, but all the events up to that point, help solidify who he is and what’s going to happen to him.
Red State is marketed as a horror movie, and while it’s not a traditional one, I believe there is some weight to that premise. The horror of the story focuses on how people with radical beliefs will eventually destroy things around them. Think back to the days of Waco, TX and the Jonestown incident. These were people similar to those depicted in Red State, with the crazy amount of firearms and all. They weren’t afraid of dying because they thought they were going to be with “Jesus” if they were killed. They would have rather died shooting at military/police force than live ordinary lives. It’s very clear that Smith is attacking christian fundamental radicalism, but when he starts drifting towards anti-state messages, it begins to get murky. He seemed to be unable to write in that commentary with focused energy. People die a lot in this movie, and even if you think a character is safe, think again. I was put off by how Smith introduced what seemed like important characters and then have them die suddenly, without getting any closure. I felt robbed a few times, but you have to remember, this is Agent Keenan’s story in the end.
I really loved this movie, but I don’t think it’s for every Kevin Smith fan or every horror fan for that matter. It’s a slow burn film that takes its sweet time reaching the somewhat comedic ending. The final line of the film is, “Shut the fuck up”. Smith is basically trying to get across the idea that these people need to shut up and let people live their lives, no matter what you think of them (both sides are targeted). Yes, the themes get rather messy but the fundamental attack is on radical parties and what destruction they will bring. I believe every person should view this movie (even if it’s not for you) at least once, if not for the acting alone, there are some powerful scenes inherent in Red State. I was more than pleased with Kevin Smith’s latest, genius might be a bold statement, but it’s pretty close to it.