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Kieran’s Rating: 6/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 7.0/10
(2 reviews total)
The Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church are some of the most horrid and despicable people, using Christianity as a mask and justification for their bigotry. Kevin Smith is a known critic of religious dogma and turned his sights on this horrible splinter group.
In an unnamed middle American state, the Five Points Church led by Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) picket the funeral of a local murdered gay man. Three teenagers, Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun), Jared (Kyle Gallner) and Travis (Michael Angarano) discover a website of women who want to have sex and go on Saturday night to meet a local lady, Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo). But Sarah is a member of the Five Points Church and the boys are drugged and captured. As the boys attempt to escape, matters escalate and the Five Points Church compound is placed under siege by the ATF, led by Special Agent Keenan (John Goodman).
The Westboro Baptist Church is a clear target and Smith is showing that all religions can be turned to its extremes in order to justify horrific acts. This is clear social commentary and it is brave of Smith to attempt something different from his usual comedy movies. Parks is effectively sinister as the antagonist, having a eerie, calm, quiet charisma as he preaches his hatred. Smith employs quick edited, tight close ups and fast camerawork to adds some intensity in his movie and there is no music except for some hymns and songs on the radio, attempting to make the movie a little more haunting. In addition, Smith does not hold back on the sadistic violence or torture. And the action during the siege was fast and bloody as both sides use heavy weapons.
The major problem with the movie is it is very unfocused, both in plot and who the main character is. Red State starts out as an interesting psychological horror about the men torturing other people because of what they are. Then it turns into a siege, based on the 1993 Waco Siege which was pure action rather then horror and it is a similar situation: heavily armed religious nuts who have children which makes any operation difficult. After that, a conspiracy theory develops as the ATF are prepared to kill everyone to cover up their own failures. As this goes on, one member of the church, Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé), tries to get the children out of the compound, knowing that the ATF is willing to kill them. All these stories could have been interesting but Smith was unable to juggle all these elements. Added to this mix, it felt very much that Smith did not know how to end the movie, feeling more like a rushed epilogue then a satisfying conclusion. A movie about bigoted nuts using religion to attack undesirables would have been a perfectly good and interesting movie.
The film lacks a main character. It starts out with the three boys, then it turns to Keenan about a third of the way through the movie. The editing is choppy, unable to stick to one set of events or a character. None of the characters are all that likeable. It is tough for any director to make us care about unlikable characters, but at least Smith takes a decent stab at it.
Smith attempts different styles throughout his movie, starting with a slow, gritty atmosphere featuring some gory levels of violence, to quick camerawork and cuts, and then to some stylish moments which were just out of place.
Acting-wise, most of the cast does a good job. As mentioned, Parks is an effective horror villain and avoids being a stereotypical fire-and-brimstone type of preacher. Leo is a truly horrid character, a woman filled with hatred, bitterness and willingness to do anything for her ideology. John Goodman, as always, turns in a good performance. The younger members of the cast are solid, young people thrown into an unimaginable situation, but Bishé’s performance felt forced.
Overall, Red State is an okay work but it could have been so much more: an interesting psychological and sociological horror about how people are willing to manipulate religion for their own ends and why other people would follow this despicable ideology.
Written and Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun, Kyle Gallner, Kerry Bishé
Other Player Affinity Staff Reviews
Simon thought: “The audacious, boundary-pushing screenwriting of Kevin Smith is a niche art form that has been consistently witty (if not entirely sterling) and has as many loyal fans as it does passionate detractors. His screenplay for Red State has been hanging around for some time, just waiting for a studio to pick it up, but now that the man has gone and just made it himself we’re finally exposed to some of his best work and what is not coincidently one of the most unsettling horror endeavors in recent memory. To say the first 2/3 of Red State is dialogue heavy would be as egregious an understatement as I’ve made, but that is not to say it is anything short of riveting. Michael Parks as deranged preacher Abin Cooper delivers the majority of Smith’s intelligently constructed dialogue and his disturbingly charismatic delivery easily makes his one of my favorite performances of the year. The action-packed finale draws a curious amount of attention to the flat execution demonstrated by Smith in Cop Out, but he shows a real knack for it here. There is no pithy sexual innuendo here a la Clerks, just a white-hot attack on religion, an absorbing character study and a thriller where getting attached to anyone would be a mistake.” Rating: 8/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 7.0/10