“Red State” Movie Review

     Writer/Director Kevin Smith is one of my favorites in the business.  He’s responsible for “Clerks”, “Chasing Amy”, and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” to name a few, but each has one thing in common.  They are comedies.  Now Smith has tried his had in a different genre.  The Horror/Thriller.  For me, “Red State” was a highly anticipated film for a number of reasons.  Smith debuted his film back in the Spring during the Sundance Film Festival.  What made this film different was the fact that Smith had decided to distribute the film himself, relying on creating buzz via social networks like Twitter and touring his film for special screenings featuring Q & A with him afterwards.  Certainly a unique approach in advance of the film’s October theatrical release.  Even better, I had the opportunity to see “Red State” on iTunes prior to its release and I was not disappointed.

     There’s no doubt Smith himself is influenced by a number of filmmakers, especially Quentin Tarantino.  Whereas Smith made a name for himself writing raunchy comedic dialogue, he never really challenged himself as a director with the need to construct scenes with a high degree of tension.  With Red State that has all changed.  Though the film begins with some of Smith’s signature nasty talk amongst its characters, once it gets going, Red State creates a scenario that will haunt you with very disturbing feelings.  If this is what we can expect in the future from Smith as a Horror director, then I would suggest he take a break from comedy and cross over for a while.  There are obviously many disturbing tales remaining in Smith’s mind.

     The Red State advance poster depicted what appeared to be a white sheet cloaked human figure attached to a large cross.  For months, I wondered what that could be.  I found out and I’m still thinking about it.  The film takes place somewhere in Middle America where we meet three stoner type teenage kids who have one thing on their mind.  Sex.  Jarod (Kyle Gallner) gets together with friends Travis (Michael Angarano) and Billy-Ray (Nicolas Braun) to meet with a mysterious woman they’ve found online who is willing to have sex with all three of them.  Of course say no more to the average adolescent boy as they venture to the woman’s location late one night.

     Early in Red State, we are also introduced to Abin Cooper (Michael Parks - the Texas Ranger in “From Dusk Till Dawn”) who is the Pastor for a fundamentalist church.  Cooper and his followers regularly attend funerals of gay men and women to protest and display their hatred in the name of God.  They are not unlike the many hate groups littered across America that you may hear about on the evening news.  They live in a secluded compound and seem to be a mystery to most, only visible to grab an occasion headline.  Unbeknownst to the boys looking for a good time, Cooper and his church/cult are behind the sex ad and soon they find themselves held captive in the Cooper compound.

     Something I’ve always liked about your typical Tarantino film is the character development.  In “Death Proof”, Tarantino spends a lot of time letting you listen in on conversations his characters are having so later when they die, you might have an emotional response.  Many horror films ignore this element all together, but Smith takes a page from his friends playbook and let’s Michael Park’s Abin lay out a brutal sermon to his church which in effect explains to the audience what makes these people who they are.  It is when this speech occurs that we first see the cloaked human figure attached to a large cross again.  As Abin speaks, you know something is gonna happen and the setting alone creates unbearable tension.  We know the three boys are being held captive.  We know these people are nuts.  So what do they have in store for them?  In what may be the line of the year, Abin tells one of the teenage girls in the audience to take all of the children out of the room for a lesson and then quips “It’s about to get grown up in here.”  What happens next launches Red State into unforgettable territory.

     Sadly enough, I fear not many people will actually see Red State and the tour de force performance by Michael Parks will be ignored during awards season.  In an equally haunting performance, Melissa Leo (last year’s Supporting Actress winner for “The Fighter”) channels her inner psycho as Abin’s truest follower.  These two characters in particular is what sets Red State apart.  The combination of the performances with Smith’s writing and directing have truly created an unsettling experience.  An experience taken from many past headlines (Waco) crossed with the sickness of the Manson family.  Interesting enough, Smith doesn’t really allow himself to take sides at any time during the film.  Everyone is presented on even ground, leaving you, the viewer, to decide what is right and what is wrong.  What you see here is an example of people who have taken religion too far.  Indirectly you are being asked, where do you draw the line between faith and extremism? GRADE: B+