Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.
The Black Saint was never really much of a Kevin Smith fan, Not that the man isn’t talented. None of his films (Besides “Dogma”) have ever struck me as particularly entertaining. And yes, I am including “Clerks” when I say this. I just don’t get the cult behind that movie. I mean it has it’s fair share of laughs but some people treat it as if it’s the funniest movie ever & I just don’t subscribe to that theology. He got a lot of mileage out of it though. Going on to make films of varying critical & box office success but in my mind none of his films besides “Dogma” is worthy of any extended praise. I understand he was f*cking hilarious on his college tours but I don’t think he thinks of himself as a stand up comedian.
He’s “That Kevin Smith” (His words, not mine) & he’s the writer director of a new film called “Red State” that has not only immediately put itself on my “Top 10” list for this year but it’s also given me a new respect for the man. The man whose last film was the big budget bomb “Cop Out”. That’s right, “Cop Out”, the Bruce Willis/Tracy Morgan film that was originally going to be released as “A Couple Of Dicks”. That title alone was funnier than the whole movie. I figured he was just gonna coast & make a “Jay & Silent Bob” movie every couple of years & retire a very wealthy man. If he’s reading this, I apologize Mr. Smith.
“Red State” takes place in Middle America, where three teenagers (Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun & Kyle Gallner) lead dull lives in a sleepy little town that would be fairly nondescript but for the fact that it is the home base for the “Five Points Trinity Church”, led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks in an Oscar worthy performance). A small but extremely dangerous group of people who live in a commune & publicly preach on the evil of homosexuality (They’re basically Anti-American, but the film focuses on their hatred of homosexuals and those who would try to support/protect them). As the film opens Travis (Angarano), is getting dropped off at school by his mother and they drive by a funeral that is under siege by the church members waving signs & yelling hateful slogans at those attending the funeral (My favorite? “Anal Penetration = Eternal Damnation”. I just found the combination of the words funny). Of course they are there because the funeral is for a gay man found dead. Amin & his flock are so feared that even a Neo-Nazi organization distanced itself from him & his teachings. He & his followers are hated by many but they are feared by all.
Jarod (Gallner), has some good news for his pals though. He’s found a website that he describes as “Craigslist for people who want to f*ck” And there just happens to be a woman who is ready for some anonymous sex right in their little town. As a mater of fact she wants to have sex with all three of them simultaneously! So later that evening, the three borrow Travis’ dad’s car and drive to the address where the bacchanal shall take place. In their excitement, they accidentally side swipe a parked car that’s seemingly empty. As they get out to survey the damage the driver comes out of the car & they panic and drive away. The driver of the other car is the Sheriff & he was in the midst of a homosexual tryst when the accident occurred. He goes back to the station & orders a deputy to find the car that side swiped him immediately. Once the deputy leaves (Under protest), the Sheriff sits and looks at a picture of his wife on his desk and begins to cry, Realizing that he’s been living a lie & might be exposed to the public and more importantly, beholden to Abin Cooper & his flock.
The three teens end up at a trailer where Sara (Melissa Leo) is waiting for them, beer in hand. Inviting them in, she offers them beer & claims that “No man goes into her without at least two beers in him”. So they excitedly down their second beers as she tells Billy-Ray (Braun) to start to remove his clothes in the bedroom where the others follow him to do the same. It’s here where they all pass out violently to the floor, thanks to the tainted brew she served them. Sara is a member of Cooper’s church and the three of them are to be used as examples of the sins of man, one at a time. The next scene takes place in the church with Abin coolly preaching on what’s wrong with this country to his small group of followers. He claims that Homosexuality is running rampant through the U.S.A. It’s the unabashed tolerance for homosexuals that he claims has hastened the demise of humanity because they cannot procreate but they can recruit. He speaks of all the natural disasters that have fallen upon mankind as of late, claiming that the lord is witnessing this apostasy, this aberration of his words. And the lord is not happy about it at all, hence the disasters.
He has a surprise for his followers though and after excusing the children from the church he unveils a man wrapped in plastic wrap attached to a large cross who he has lured to the church through a post on a homosexual website seeking sex. As the man’s face is covered in plastic wrap by some of the male parishioners, one of them warns the others to be careful of that “Gay Saliva” believing that if it touches you, it changes you into one of them. Once his face is completely covered, he is shot through the top of his head & then Jared (who has been witnessing this from a cage just off of the pulpit) is grabbed and starts to get the plastic wrap business as well as he proclaims “I’m Not Gay”!
All the while, the deputy is looking for the car the Sheriff described to him & finds it, on the grounds of the church. Abin sees him approaching the front of the church through a closed circuit camera system and heads outside to finesse his way out of the situation without making the deputy curious. During all of this, Billy Ray breaks free of his bonds (He’s being held under the church with Travis). In his attempt to escape he happens upon a room full of automatic weapons & grabs one just as one of Abin’s goons finds him & they shoot each other dead. The deputy hears the shots from outside & immediately radios in to the Sheriff what’s taking place at Cooper’s compound when he is shot dead. Abin calmly picks up the radio and tells the Sheriff that his deputy is indeed dead. And that there are lots of places where homosexuals think they are having sex secretly & discreetly. But he has a load of photographs of our no longer in the closet sheriff in all sorts of compromising positions with naked young men. He refers to the Sheriff as “Mr. Queer” & offers to clean up the “Mess” he’s made. If the Sheriff takes any action he’ll send the pics to his wife & the news. After he hangs up, the Sheriff is about to blow his brains out knowing that his secret is out no matter what he does when he notices a name on his desk…
This is where F.B.I. Agent Keenan (John Goodman) is woken up from a sound sleep and is informed of the situation. He has been monitoring Cooper’s church for a while & is called to investigate the compound with a group of armed Agents in full battle gear. He wants to negotiate a quiet surrender but due to an unfortunate shot by the Sheriff that kills one of Abin’s followers it becomes another Waco type situation. And we all know what happened on that unfortunate day…
“Red State” was initially promoted as a horror film when it was first announced & the script was pretty much a secret for a while until Smith revealed that it could be construed as a horror film but wasn’t what people think of as a typical horror film. And he is right, The horrors here aren’t of the Freddie, Jason or Pinhead variety. The horrors here are sadly based in reality & although he’s never said it, it’s obvious that Smith had the Westboro Baptist church in mind when he wrote this. Those are the hate mongers who protest soldiers funerals as well as homosexuals and anything else they decide is against God. Cooper & his small following are cut from the same cloth and that is where the terror really is. The fact that there really are groups out there worldwide who echo Abin & his beliefs to the letter. The fact that you or I might be living next to one of these nut jobs or working side by side with one of them is terrifying to me. The fact that someone could corrupt the minds of adults & their children with no regard for their lives is terrifying to me. This is a horror film because this is reality, not some wacky indestructible serial killer story. This sh*t has happened before & in all likelihood, will happen again. That’s real horror in my eyes. And in Kevin Smith’s eyes as well.
There is little to no ambient music in the film either, the music is in the script & the way Smith orchestrates his actors performances. Parks should already be a shoo in for a “Best Actor” Oscar nomination & Goodman & Leo should also be rewarded with “Best Supporting” noms for their performances. Parks opening sermon is nearly ten minutes long & he nails it to the f*cking wall. It’s just him & Smith’s words (Although I’m sure there was some ad-libbing going on). Leo is dazzling as she goes from silent reverence to sheer madness all in the same scene in her adherence to Cooper’s beliefs. And although John Goodman will be forever known as Dan, constantly harried husband of Roseanne Barr on the sitcom bearing her name, his performance here as agent Keenan was something that caught me totally unawares. He conveys a sense of a calm, rational, furious & over his head individual all at the same time. His face is the face of a weary warrior who just wants this to end one way or the other. At times it looks like he just wants to go home & pretend this never happened as it unfolds before his downtrodden eyes & wrinkled face. It would be a crime to forget him come Oscar time.
The final third of the script gets a little loopy once the bullets start flying. Even though this is when some of the best acting takes place in the film. The arrival of the trumpet blasts signalling the coming of the four horsemen of the apocalypse was a bit much for this reviewer & the explanation for their unexpected arrival is a bit silly. But that’s a minor complaint. It’s the only bit of humor (If one chooses to look at it that way) in the film & I suppose Smith couldn’t help himself. Goodman’s last lines in the film are chilling because they’re true, “People just do the strangest things when they believe they’re entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe”. These words stuck with me for a long time after the movie ended and they’re going to stick in my head for a long while because I don’t think I’ve heard truer words recited in any film I’ve ever seen.
“Red State” wears it’s intentions on it’s sleeve. You can look at the poster and figure it out, but that doesn’t change the fact that although sometimes Smith is beating us over the skull with his message (Being that the Govt. can lock up any individual suspected of terrorism for an indefinite time, Hence a “Red/Communist” state) it’s still something we don’t think about nearly enough nowadays. Our basic rights as citizens of the U.S.A. is what is being questioned here. I’m giving “Red State” Four Shrouds for it’s tight script, super intense acting (Cooper’s people have NOTHING on The Devil’s Rejects”) & the way it unfolded & expanded in so many different directions. I wasn’t too crazy about the “Shaky Cam” shots & found them to be unnecessary & distracting so I’m deducting one shroud for that. But it’s still one of the best I’ve seen this year & I think if you go to see it with no expectations of it being a “Horror” film, you’ll see that it is in fact some of the scariest sh*t you’ll ever see this year. You’ll also hope that another situation like this one doesn’t come to pass in reality. A f*cking great movie!
Red State (2011)