I know it may not be very hip for me to say, but I’m not the biggest fan of Kevin Smith’s films. CLERKS, MALLRATS, JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, CLERKS II … I really didn’t think any of them were all that good. I enjoyed DOGMA but not to the extent of calling it a ‘masterpiece.’ So when I heard Smith made a horror film I wasn’t too pumped. But then I started reading some positive buzz about it and even though I haven’t been too blown away by Smith’s previous work, at least he’s a writer-director doing some original films!! So this past weekend I had the chance to check out RED STATE and I grabbed the opportunity. I’m glad I did!! RED STATE isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a damn good one that explores a post-9/11 America and how it might deal with some “older” problems.
RED STATE begins by following around three high school buddies Travis (Michael Angarano), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun), and Randy (Ronnie Connell). They’re your typical high schoolers who talk about partying and constantly think with their penises. Randy’s been on a website where local people can hook up for anonymous sex and he found a woman who wants to take on all three of them at the same time. So the guys get some beer, load into their car, and go on a MILF booty-call.
In the same town there’s a radical, ‘fire and brimstone’ preacher, Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) who lives on a compound with his devout followers. He preaches about the moral decay of society which he sees mainly as the fault of homosexuals and “sex perverts.” No doubt Smith wrote this extreme religious group after the Westboro Baptist Church and modeled Abin Cooper after Fred Phelps. This is not a subtle comparison; Smith is as blunt as a sledgehammer here, but he never reduces Cooper to an over-the-top caricature. Smith’s Cooper is a really fantastic piece of writing.
It turns out that the woman whose trailer the three teens go to is actually a member of Cooper’s church to attract ‘sex perverts.’ Before the guys could say, “I get to fuck her first,” they are drugged and taken to Cooper’s church. Also at the church is a tied up gay man. We then meet Cooper and get a prolonged sermon as he explains how America has fallen and how he proposes to bring it back. Cooper’s sermon was a little long and seemed to drag on, but it’s also a powerful scene. I didn’t know what was more scary … Cooper’s sermon or the blank-eyed look of his devout followers, many of which were young adults and children.
Then in a third storyline, Special ATF Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), who’s been investigating Cooper and his followers and is trying to follow up on accusations that Cooper and his followers are stockpiling weapons. Well things hit a boiling point pretty quickly and all three story lines smash into each other in a most violent way.
First things first, let’s just get this out of the way: Is this a horror movie? Kevin Smith himself said that RED STATE is “a nasty-ass $4mil horror flick with few (if any) redeeming characters.” And I can totally see why Smith calls this a horror film. But in the traditional sense, no; I don’t think this is a horror film. Horrifying themes are examined and horrible things happen in the film, but I can’t really say this is a horror film. This being said, RED STATE is a powerful and intense film that’ll make you uneasy and ask, “What the hell happened to America after 9/11?!!?” The acting is phenomenal from the entire cast and John Goodman and Michael Parks really stand out in their roles. Goodman’s Keenan is a man torn between following orders and doing what he thinks is right. He’s trapped in an agency still trying to overcome the ghosts of their past (the Branch Davidians, etc …) and which will do anything to avoid making future mistakes. It was great seeing John Goodman on screen again and he reminded me how good an actor he really is.
This is a richly layered film that explores both sides of the same coin and doesn’t favor one point over the other like you’d expect it too. I also really like Smith’s choice to not include a soundtrack in the film. This lack of soundtrack gives the entire film a gritty and very realistic tone. The only songs in the film are the ones sung by Cooper and his congregation. And just because this isn’t really a horror film doesn’t mean it’s bloodless. There’s a lot of violence in RED STATE and some of it is hard to watch. Trust me; this is a powerful film.
RED STATE won’t make me look back at Smith’s older films in a new light and call them all ‘masterpieces,’ but he really did hit it out of the ballpark with this one. This is both an exploration and condemnation of post-9/11 America and how certain policies have been exploited by the government for their owns means. RED STATE might not be a ‘horror film’ per se, but there’s enough horrifying things going on in this film that’ll grab and keep your attention. RED STATE is currently available on some VOD systems and will be having it’s DVD and Blu-ray premier on October 18, 2011. Don’t miss this one!!
Director: Kevin Smith (& writer)
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer