Red State (2011)

While on the way to school Travis (Michael Angarano) and his family are waylaid by a funeral for a homosexual boy who was recently found dead. The funeral is being protested by a fundamentalist Christian group led by preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) and consisting largely of members of his family. He arrives late, sparking a lesson from his U.S. Government teacher about the First Amendment, remarking that Cooper's group has been disavowed by everyone, including ultra-right-wing conservatives and the Aryan Nation.

During lunch, Travis and his friends Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) and Randy (Ronnie Connell) look at a web site of women offering free sex. Most are in major cities, but one is in a nearby town, so the kids decide to get some action. Upon arrival, they meet Sara (Melissa Leo), who offers them beers to get started. The boys pass out, and Travis wakes up in a cage in the church's compound. Cooper begins preaching, giving his usual litany against homosexuals and the wickedness of America, before telling Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé) to leave as things are going "to get adult." By that, he means the killing is about to begin, starting with a homosexual man they lured over the internet and have tied to the cross.

Billy-Ray and Randy similarly have been trapped in a basement, and take advantage of switchblade found on the corpse. Billy-Ray escapes, eventually coming across the church's armory, and he quickly grabs a machine gun. Sara's husband Caleb (Ralph Garman) chases Billy-Ray, and shoots him, but not before Caleb returns the favor.

At the time this happens, Cooper is talking with a sheriff's deputy (who has been looking for the car the boys have been driving since they sideswiped a car in which local Sheriff Wyman [Stephen Root] was having a liaison with another man). The deputy hears the shots, and is subsequently killed. Cooper then informs Sheriff Wyman that if he breathes a word about it he will make sure the sheriff's wife gets photos he has of other trysts. The sheriff instead makes a call to the ATF.

Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) is contacted to serve a search warrant at the compound, and attempts to do so. Unfortunately, it is also at this time that Randy is trying to escape, and he is mistakenly shot by Sheriff Wyman, touching off a fire fight which results in the church being branded domestic terrorists and the ATF agents given instructions to wipe out every last man, woman and child.

Sound a bit confusing? Well, I think many people thought the same thing about director Kevin Smith's first foray into horror. Smith is largely known for his comedies, and this was a complete departure. The truth is, the movie works on many levels. Michael Parks's performance is wonderfully over-the-top, John Goodman does his usual exemplary job and Kevin Pollack does what he can with his small role. Smith has gotten better at directing, and it shows, although he is still right around average and doesn't really have an auteur style. Like his comedies, this lives and dies on the dialogue and the performances.

Unfortunately, marketing is what ultimately brought this down. Going into it I was expecting a Texas Chainsaw style film, just with God-botherers. In some ways it was advertised it looked like it was going to be Hostel with the shadowy organization replaced by a church. Others were expecting an indictment of Republicans and Christians, and this was viewed either favorably or as another assault, depending on which side everyone was on. It was none of these. In fact, only in the first half is it truly a horror film. It quickly becomes an action film, and at one point even threatens to turn into a fantasy movie. It is at heart, rather, a good old exploitation film, with all the messy plotting and spurts of genius one expects from it. If there is any political message involved, it is that extremism on any level should not be tolerated.

In the end, you have one entertaining mess of a film that is thoroughly enjoyable as long as you don't have too many preconceived notions going into it.

Red State (2011)
Duration: 88 minutes
Starring: Michael Angarano, Michael Parks, John Goodman
Director: Kevin Smith


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