Kevin Smith’s Red State
“I said this was gonna be a simple in and out, well simple just shit itself”
Writer-Director Kevin Smith established his career by making dialogue heavy comedies for comic book and film geeks of my generation. While I’ve never been a particularly big fan (I’m more of a Tarantino geek), I’ve enjoyed a few of his films here and there over the years, my favorites being Clerks and Dogma. For me, Smith movies are for the guys at the comic book shops who like dirty jokes about getting laid and rants about the finer points of Daredevil and X-Men. Sure, that kind of thing is fun when you’re younger but sort of wears thin after you’ve grown up and experienced life a bit. At least it does for me, at this point I need a little more out of a veteran filmmaker’s work. That’s actually why I went into Red State with a positive outlook. It was refreshing to see he wasn’t doing Clerks 3 or Chasing Amy 2 (NOTE: I never saw his Bruce Willis/Tracy Morgan cop movie, but after hearing about it, I think that’s a good thing.)
Three goofy high school pals, Travis (Michael Angarano), Jared (Kyle Gallner) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) get the idea to go online and try to score a date with a prostitute for fun. They set up the meeting and search for the address. Being idiots, they aren’t paying attention on the road and they accidentally sideswipe a car while looking for the place. They finally arrive at a small trailer where their date, a not too bad looking, middle aged woman greets them. She invites them inside and offers them some cold beers then tells them to strip and they get ready to have a white trash three way. Like clockwork, they each pass out due to having their drinks spiked.
When the boys awake, instead of a crazy killer leering at them holding a chainsaw, we hear what seems to be joyous singing. It turns out we’ve just joined a fundamentalist christian church meeting, where their “date” is a proudly devout member. We then are introduced to the flamboyant Preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) who leads his brainwashed followers in praising the righteous Lord. It’s soon apparent from his twisted religious bible spouting that Cooper is an anti-gay extremist zealot who is patterned after the kinds of nutcases that belong to the Westboro Baptist Church. In their eyes, everything evil in the world is blamed on homosexuality and people who aren’t God’s children like them.
Cooper is trying to do his part in helping to cleanse the world of it’s filth by executing all those he considers sexual perverts and sodomites. Teenagers Travis, Billy Ray and Jared are his next sacrificial lambs. Meanwhile, Sheriff Wynan (Stephen Root) the same person the three boys hit on the road (while he was getting a blow job from another man) sends his deputy Pete (Breaking Bad’s Matt Jones) out to Cooper’s church to inquire about if he has seen the hit and run suspect’s car. Inside, Travis, Billy Ray and Jared are still trying to escape their fate. When noises emanating from the church alert Deputy Pete something is awry, before he can investigate, he is shotgun blasted to bits by Cooper’s nutty son. Wynan is then contacted via CB radio by Cooper about his homosexual secrets (done in a distastefully funny manner) but this doesn’t keep Wynan from contacting ATF agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) to help him in the matter. It turns out the ATF has been surveilling Cooper because of his known religious and political stands, and also because of the arsenal of weapons he has stashed in his church basement (for any Holy wars that come up). Subsequently, Keenan sets up a raid on Cooper’s church and the film turns into a wacko Waco, Texas style firefight/standoff. Only the Good Lord’s own hand can help the holy servant Abin Cooper out of this situation.
My favorite character in Red State is hands down the great Michael Parks. Ever since first seeing him as Sheriff Earl McGraw in Tarantino films like From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill and Death Proof I’ve been a fan. Anytime he shows up a film, its an absolute pleasure to watch what happens with his characters. His Abin Cooper is a seriously repulsive, delusional hatemonger but at the same time listening to Parks indulge in Smith’s witty banter with such finesse and style in that southern drawl he’s best known for, you can’t help but crack a smile.
Now, if you’re looking for the kinds of thrills you’d get in traditional horror films like The Exorcist, Friday The 13th and Jaws, then Red State isn’t going to deliver. This is a film about real horrors in society like the people that use God and religion to justify violence and hate. The ones that want to terrorize people into believing as they do at any cost. The kind of horror that comes from seeing people tortured or killed for simply being who they are. In that case, Red State is as about frightening as they come. Nevertheless, even with the serious moral commentary, it’s not lacking Smith’s trademark raunchy humor, which is sprinkled liberally throughout.