In a small town in Middle America three over-sexed teenage boys with little else to do with their lives make a plan to meet a woman they have found on the internet. Their plan – to fulfil their over-active libidos and pop their prepubescent cherries.
Turning up to her trailer nervous and excited, the somewhat unwilling woman encourages the witless trio to drink and undress in readiness for the erotic adventure they have all been imagining.
When the three awake some time later the scene is very different to how they left it. Trapped and chained in a small crawl-space, one of their number confined in a cage above the threesome are prisoners – but the worst is still to come.
They soon hear the familiar voice of pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) the twisted leader of the Five Points Church, a fundamentalist religious organisation devoted to the destruction of sin in all its forms – from abortion to homosexuality to the lustful appetites of three teenage boys.
As the sermon proceeds and the horrific execution of another innocent man takes place in front of their captivated eyes, the boys know they must escape before they become the latest victims. It’s a holy war against all humanity who do not worship the same wrathful God as this insane religious zealot.
Red State is a highly political, scarily believable horror movie. It’s ripped from the fundamentalist Christian reality that has engulfed America in recent times, however the most shocking thing you’ll find out about the film is that it is written and directed by Kevin Smith.
Smith is a name synonymous with slacker comedies from the inspired and oft-imitated Clerks, to the equally amazing Chasing Amy and the recent Zack and Miri Make a Porno making Red State an anomaly among the amusing throwaway movies he has previously made. That said, judging by the brilliant direction, chillingly realistic script and creatively crafted characters Red State proves that perhaps Smith should have jumped genres a long time ago.
Though a horror detailing the brutal battles that explode from peoples deep rooted religious beliefs seems at odds with Smith’s previous work, one only need look to the 1999 comedy Dogma for a film which deals with the same premise (plus some very controversial ideas such as avenging angels, a black disciple and Jesus’ teenage years) to see how he has visited this territory before, if slightly less seriously or successfully.
A very religious man himself, Red State is a labour of love for Smith. He edited and self-distributed the film after some very bad experiences with major studios which he very publicly voiced to audiences on his podcast’s and tours and this shows in the film.
Although Smith’s eye for comedy may have affected his eye for pacing when it comes to tension and terror, Red State grabs you from the beginning and does not let go until the final frame. The conflicts, controversy and moral calls which happen in-between will keep you talking about it for months after.
Naturalistic and scarily believable, the script is spot on, from the trashy teenage talk at the start (the place you will hear Smith’s comedy kick in most) to the rationalization of murder and mutilation all in the name of God – which we hear from Michael Parks chilling character Abin Cooper, inspired by infamous pastor Fred Phelps.
The cast is tremendous, especially Melissa Leo as one of Cooper’s fundamentalist coop. Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun and Michael Angarano shine as the terrorized teenagers and John Goodman gives a stunning performance as the over-worked ATF Agent sent to stop Cooper’s Christian clan.
As important as it is shockingly realistic in revealing what some people will do when they hold such strong beliefs, Smith has created a modern day morality tale in Red State. Where good and evil is not simply set out and the horror is all too human and close to home – especially for American audiences.