It may not be the horror film smith planned but it’s a great story that comments on controversial aspects of society.
Head into the movie store, straight past special interest, turn left at the romantic comedies and you’ll find yourself at Red State, a slightly funny, very Ideological, action packed horror film with enough artistic touch to make it bearable to watch. It’s technically a action horror but as this is director Kevin Smiths first break away from conventional dramas, he hasn’t pulled off the intense editing a horror film needs. Nevertheless, Smith has expanded out of his comfort zone and given audiences a genuine piece of art. The film was released to cinemas in Australia on October 13, 2011, and has just arrived on DVD.
Smith has developed a reputation for having an opinion; he’s incensed by religious intolerance and by the abuse of state power, but mostly he is fed up with the hypocrisy, meanness and plain stupidity that seem to infect every corner of contemporary American life. Red State definitely doesn’t shy away from hiding his views. The film is filled with hatred towards fundamentalists, and federal agencies, and little sympathy is developed for the promiscuous boys. The problem is that the film seems to be vehicle for this view, swerving between horror and satire without being quite sharp or scary enough.
Red State revolves around sex, religion and politics. Sex is embodied by three horny school boys; Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and Kyle Gallner, who find themselves involved in “the devils business” when they respond to an ad on a sex hook-up website. The boys arrive at the trailer of the woman who sent out the invitation, Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo). Only to be drugged and wake up to find themselves held hostage in the compound of Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) an fanatical fundamentalist pastor known throughout the town for protesting against homosexuality. Cooper decides the promiscuous boys are sinners; “I hate the wickedness in America. Rampant fornication, adultery, abortion, flagrant sexuality everywhere….and it’s up to the righteous to curb the spread of this disease”.
While the boys are locked up, Cooper makes a longwinded sermon speech that seems to uncomfortably drag on. Yet the scene is intriguing and useful for enabling the viewer to get feel for the church characters and understand why they like Cooper. At the end of the monologue a homosexual captive is cling wrapped to a cross and executed with a revolver. One character warns;“Careful of that gay saliva, if you get some on you, it’ll turn ya,” demonstrating the films unusual style.
The state gets involved when police get wind that something’s not right at the compound. John Goodman, (Joseph Keenan) the officer in charge, and his men are somewhat perturbed; “Come out with your hands up and you will not be harmed. Repeat: You will not be harmed”. Goodmans’s Deputy adds; “I think it’s the use of the word ‘repeat’ that makes this work every time.” Despite this call, The situation deteriorates and the police are given orders not to leave any witnesses. The rhetoric around the polices’ actions is Smiths view of what’s wrong with the state.
Red State has some mesmerising performances worth watching the film for; Keenan’s character shows beautiful talent. While , Cooper, based on infamous pastor Fred Phelps knows for protesting events such as military funerals and gay pride gatherings, is intriguing and almost likeable. The most disturbing figure is Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé ) who is very emotional in her endeavour to save “the babies”. All the performances are believable in their own quirky way. However, Melissa Keo’s wig was a reminder of reality.
Smith personalises characters on both sides to ensure we never quite know who’s going to save the day or get a bullet in the head next. This detracts from the horror but get’s us more deeply evolved with the films message as we’re shocked by the twists and turns and how strange the film becomes.
It’s a really weird and wonderful example of how crossing genres can turn out; terribly violent on one level and on another filled with lengthy, long-winded philosophical discourses and blind alleys. It ends up being an ideological take on a horror film which won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. However, Smith was attempting to do something different and he definitely has. While, the plot seems somewhat confused, the bizarre quality reflects what Smith seems to be conveying, and leads to quite an original film. To find fault with the sloppy editing or awkward performances would be to miss the point. The film has the effect of filling viewers with a sense of desperation as we look at Smiths tragic depiction of human nature.