Red State begins with three friends --- Jarod (Kyle Gallner), Travis (Michael Angarano), and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Barn) --- of roughly college age scheming to get laid. Okay, here are our naughty teens; the horror movie is underway.
|And yes, Billy-Ray's name is just an excuse for a mullet|
|Direct quote: "Hamina, hamina, hamina...!"|
You see, in the background of that story, viewers learned about the local murder of a young homosexual in town, and we see his funeral being picketed by members of the Five Points Church, which is a none-too-subtle analogue for the Westboro Baptist Church. As you might surmise from the fact that they picketed a funeral, Five Pointers are not a sect known for their calm demeanor or reasonable actions. As such, our three horny teens have been held captive so they may be executed in God's name for sinning against him. What follows is an intense look at the rhetoric of American hate groups and the tension that comes from waiting for your own execution.
|Ball gags: rarely a good sign|
Red State is not a typical horror movie, even if it starts out like your average slasher flick. What could have been a decently effective premise --- teens up to no good are captured and need to escape --- quickly turns into a showcase for Kevin Smith to show how crazy extreme religious people are. Smith doesn't add anything clever or interesting to the larger argument here, and I seriously doubt that anyone who watches this film will on the side of the hate group. Even with Smith's heavy-handed diatribe, this could have been an effective horror movie. Unfortunately, Smith adds a further twist by introducing a firefight between the church group and the ATF. So...there goes the horror element. Furthermore, the focus of the story shifts to ATF Agent Keenan (John Goodman), who is heading the operation. Is his mission to save the three kidnapped boys? Actually, he isn't even aware of them. What the hell is this movie supposed to be about, then?
That's my biggest problem with Red State. The plot is just a mess. Smith over-complicates things, includes uninteresting subplots and can't focus on a main character or theme. There are only a few moments where his trademark humor shows up, and the quips are obvious and not very funny. I was surprised to see how poorly plotted, paced, and edited Red State was. This is his tenth feature film as a director, and his ninth as a writer --- how could this film's direction be so horribly inept? My only explanation is that this is Smith's first venture outside of the comedy genre and, without the crutch of dick jokes, his shortcomings as a director are exposed here.
|And here, he displays his shortcoming for context-driven humor|
Most of the acting in the film is decent, if uninspired. John Goodman is certainly likable as an ATF agent, but his character's motivations are poorly explained and quickly discarded without any conflict.
|To shoot or not to shoot: never mind, there are no consequences|
Michael Parks as the creepy/evil preacher. While his character was never written with the intention of being convincing, Parks took a horrible villain and added some much-needed charisma, making this nutcase seem plausible, like a modern-day Charles Manson.
|Add a self-carved forehead swastika, and you're there|
There is a solid premise behind this film, but the story loses its way far too early. I hate the fact that you never know who the main characters are. Failing that, I should at least be able to clearly identify what the main conflict in the movie will be, but that is left as a second-act surprise. I despise Smith's straw man arguments against organized religion, and I felt that this was another none-too-clever attack on a subject that demands attention and pondering. To put it bluntly, Red State handles religious extremism with even less thought than Dogma.
|On your knees and repent!|