Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Director Kevin Smith’s latest film Red State is built on the flimsiest premise before concluding on a bad joke. As a long time Smith fan it pains me to say how much I disliked Red State (and I enjoyed Jersey Girl!), but it seems as if the director tried far too hard to step out of his comfort zone. With an almost non-existent plot, an incredibly short runtime and awkward pacing, the movie does little to inspire, failing to be a serious drama or a serious horror film.
Three teen boys find a woman on the internet willing to have sex with them. They go to meet her and end up being abducted by the crazed members of the Five Points Trinity Church, a church comprised of religious zealots who murder those they think are sinners. When the ATF show up at the church’s door, charismatic leader Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) will stop at nothing to protect his church and their nefarious agenda.
Smith has to be given some credit for daring to move out of the world of “dick and fart jokes,” and attempting to enter the world of serious drama. His movie, inspired by the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church, is daring and suspenseful, it just doesn’t seem to lead to anything. The film’s biggest accomplishment comes in giving a starring role to Michael Parks, generally a bit player in the works of Quentin Tarantino. Parks is frightening and funny as the evil Abin Cooper. His rousing, hate filled sermon will leave you with goose bumps but the way he treats the children of his congregation seems to come from some type of good place. Had the movie devoted fully to Parks’ character and given him more meat, he could have become a legendary villain in the Smith oeuvre.
Unfortunately, Smith just tries too hard to enter the realm of horror and drama, relying more on explicit violence and forcing a message that can be seen from the first frame. Red State seemed to be directly inspired by 70s B-fare like Last House on the Left, as the movie opens with the three boys finding a mysterious woman who will have sex with them. With that premise the movie plays like a cautionary tale about not trusting strangers for about 10 minutes before rushing headfirst into the church. At a very, very lean hour and a half you don’t learn anything about the characters except that the church hates homosexuals. The three boys are quickly dispatched, to the point that their names are irrelevant, and the introduction of ATF agent Keenan (John Goodman) solidifies the film’s second half. Goodman packs a punch in this role but he looks unhealthy and it’s easy to see from the numerous scenes of him sitting or just standing.
The film’s second half is where all the violence takes place, and utterly engulfs the movie. Once the firefight between the ATF and the church starts the movie drops all pretence of plot to have characters shout at each other. The second half also sees young actress Kerry Bishe take over as the sweet daughter of the church Cheyenne. Cheyenne has plans to save the children, but a stupid decision that comes at the eleventh hour makes her another footnote in the movie’s need to abandon plots with a bullet to the head, literally.
As if that isn’t frenetic enough the movie abruptly ends with a ridiculous epilogue that plays like the punch line of a terrible joke. I can understand that Smith wanted to punctuate the end with some humor to lessen the bleak tone, but after witnessing the mass slaughter that takes place it’s hard to laugh at jokes about the US government condoning mass murder because they just didn’t like the Church. It’s almost as if Smith said “Here’s some really crazy nuts, but don’t worry because they’ll probably get raped in prison, isn’t that funny?”
I’m all for Smith making new movies but it seemed he just got confused on which route to take. Neither a horror film, nor a suspense film, Red State is literally all over the place. The movie ends with a speech about the Patriot Act and religious zealotry that would play better in a Michael Moore movie. It’s a good speech, but only seeks to force the message audiences knew from the minute they bought tickets. I’m sure you’ll bounce back Kev, but you let me down on this!
Red State is available On Demand and in select theaters now!
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.