Red State follows three horny friends who turn to the internet to find a woman willing to fulfill their teenage urges. They think they have hit the jackpot when they find Sara (Academy Award winner Melissa Leo) – an older lady who wants to have a foursome. However, what should have been the greatest night of their lives turns into a nightmare when the boys are drugged and taken into captivity by the infamous Five Point Church – a local religious cult who operates their own brand of bloody atonement. The boys wake, bound and half naked deep in the bowels of the church and immediately witness the brutal execution of another ‘sinner’. Knowing they are next in line, the boys beg for their lives but Pastor Abin Cooper (the legendary Michael Parks) and his warped congregation have other plans and embark on their reign of terror.
Trapped and terrified, the boys only chance of survival is to fight their captors, but the evil evangelists are ready to send them straight to hell. Unbeknownst to them though, Federal Agent Joseph (John Goodman) and his trigger happy team are right outside, poised and ready to blow the church off the face of the planet.
Director Kevin Smith certainly isn’t known for films that tackle such a controversial subject matter; up until this, he had focused mainly on comedy. Red State is his first attempt at a horror/thriller movie and is an admirable one, which works for the most part. But his stated intention was to create a ‘horror’ movie, and the film leaps in and out of different genres far too often to successfully be an all-out horror; starting out as a buddy comedy, then into a horror of sorts which evolves into an action movie which switches again to be possibly supernatural and finally back to reality, with the film being a drama with comedic tones. Of course, reading the plot synopsis above should reveal that this was never intended to be a conventional ‘horror’, but it certainly is terrifying in its own way.
Michael Parks (better known to modern day film fans as a frequent casting choice in Quentin Tarantino movies; he plays Sheriff Earl McGraw in From Dusk Till Dawn, both Kill Bill movies and Robert Rodriguez’ half of the Grindhouse feature Planet Terror) gives a remarkable performance as the crazed church Pastor; the hate-filled sermon scene is absolutely mesmerizing, mainly due to Parks. He delivers words of hatred like they are Shakespeare, without ever raising his voice. The calm nature of the scene is what really stands out, especially when there are children present in the church, who appear to be absorbing every word as if it’s the truth.
Melissa Leo shows why she’s an Award winner here as the daughter who leads the three boys to their nightmare. The boys themselves seem genuinely likable unlike almost all other leads in typical horror movies. But as mentioned before, this is no ordinary horror. John Goodman rounds off a stellar cast and is his usual brilliant self as the Federal Agent who is torn between doing the right thing or what his superior is ordering.
The themes covered are without a doubt controversial – there were protests outside the cinemas that it was being screened at, but I’m not too sure if they were legitimate or a clever marketing ploy by Smith. I won’t go into it too much, but the church’s hatred is mainly aimed at homosexuality, and the script doesn’t hold back when it comes to the Pastors vile, but terrifyingly calm, tirades. But just when everything seems straightforward and the film seems narratively secure, Smith slams on the brakes and makes an abrupt turn down action alley to take us into an intense and bloody gunfight. It’s a severe contrast to what was hinted at in the first half of the film, and it’s from here on out that the film unfortunately feels like any other action thriller.
Nonetheless, Red State covers ground that only independent cinema could. The usually high paid cast give their all in a film that cost a mere $4 million, and the ending will certainly make you question everything you thought you knew about the movie.
Red State is available to buy on DVD and Blu Ray from 23rd January 2012.