Red State (May Contain Spoilers)

Already being a huge fan of Kevin Smith might have helped with this, but I’ve known about this film being made for quite a while now. In fact, rumours of this film started circulating shortly after Zack and Miri Make A Porno came out in 2008, but back then it was rumoured that Red State was going to be a horror film about zombies set in New Jersey. The resulting film actually something of a whole different breed of horror, but still just as scary!

Red State starts out with Smith’s usual style of comedy and focuses on three friends in high school who find a website advertising people who want to have cheap, one night sex with anyone. Accepting an offer of a four-way, the friends go to meet the woman who made the offer only to find it is a trap set up by a group of religious fundamentalists from the radical 5 Points Church. When they wake up, they find out that the church led by head preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) have a much more sinister agenda and are ruthlessly kidnapping and killing people they personally deem to be “sinners”. After local authorities and federal agents get involved, headed by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), a shoot-out starts up and there’s a deadly choice for the people involved  – stay and be killed by fanatics, or try to escape and risk being shot in the process.

I’ve sort of summed up the premise of this film as “what if the Westborough Baptist Church had guns?” (if you don’t know who they are, you can look them up – they’re not hard to find!) since the fundamentalists of the 5 Points Church in Red State are loosely based around the famous protests of the Westborough Baptist Church who, as it happens, get mentioned at one point in the script and planned to protest the release of this film! So, clearly, Red State has had its fair share of background research gone into it much like Dogma did.

Perhaps what made Red State so interesting for me was that it was so entirely different from Kevin Smith’s usual brand of film that there’s almost no trace of the same director from Jersey Girl or Zack And Miri. And with the roots of this film coming from real life religious followers, it makes Red State all that more scary and slightly horrifying – perhaps making it the kind of horror film Smith intended to make all along.

There are a lot of mixed messages throughout Red State – from the fears of religious fundamentalists to whether the American authorities operate in unexpected and unorthodox ways as a means to an end – as there are a lot of unexpected twists and turns. What perhaps makes Red State a bit of a mould-breaker is that you realise about half-way in that unlike other horror films that this film resembles at some points (go see Texas Chainsaw Massacre), anything can happen to anyone at any point. So, no one is safe. But, that being said, you also realise that you’re not sure who to side with at certain points – whether some of the people in the church aren’t that bad and have just been lead into a situation they didn’t want or whether the authorities are taking things too far in order to save themselves from media coverage. But perhaps that’s the point of Red State from the get-go, that you’re constantly questioning the basic morals of each character and the ways in which they express them. Even at the end, it begins to head down such an unexpected path you find yourself thinking “surely not” at the prospect that the gun-toting God Squad could actually have been right all along.

While there are a couple of extended conversational scenes indulging Smith’s writing side, such as the 10 minutes + scene of Michael Parks preaching to his church or John Goodman talking to his bosses in the aftermath there are some brilliant performances throughout Red State, not to mention Michael Parks who delves so deep into his own character you’d be forgiven for thinking Smith had employed a preacher to do the role, and Kerry Bishé as the grand-daughter to Abin Cooper who tries to do the right thing in the end. While it’s great to see John Goodman in a compelling role again (and looking a lot thinner as well), it’s even better to see these two actors, both fresh and experienced, making their roles so believable in this film.

The fact that Kevin Smith personally distributed and marketed Red State through his podcasting network SModcast and SModcast Internet Radio in the US is probably a testament to how much he believes in this film he’s created, and the fact that he only plans to do one more film before finishing filmmaking for good has become more of a shame than it was before. Red State gets 7 out of 10 for being interesting and gory and a complete change of pace for Kevin Smith all at the same time.