By Brooks Cline
“Red State’s” release caught many by surprise first because of who it was coming from, namely the mind behind raunchy comedies like “Clerks”, “Mallrats”, and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” More surprise resulted from Smith’s unconventional decision to self-distribute the film.
Though it contains many elements of a traditional popcorn horror flick, “Red State” carries a distinctly disturbing undercurrent. The fact that the villains are a direct representation of the widely hated Westboro Baptist Church (of serial funeral-protesting fame) is no secret. That is the movie’s hook, and Smith is obviously not aiming at subtlety.
The story tells of three teenage boys (Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, and Nicholas Braun) who accept an online invitation for sex and are lured into a nearby town called Cooper’s Dell, only to be captured by a group of religious fundamentalists—the Coopers. Michael Parks is “Red State’s” enthralling yet terrifying standout as the church leader/ferocious crusader Abin Cooper. Melissa Leo is nearly as good in the role of his dutifully zombie-like daughter, Sara.
But Parks is the one who nails the Fred Phelps allegory, portraying a man who believes that every word coming out of his mouth is the righteous edict of God. “God don’t love you unless you fear Him,” is his mantra. This is one line among many in Smith’s solid screenplay that won’t soon leave the viewer’s head. The dialogue is terse and quick, but it doesn’t lose the humor so typical of Smith’s movies (although it also begs the question: what’s funny about this?). Smith also gives “Red State” its share of twists and turns. John Goodman shows up as a police chief who raids Cooper’s Dell in an attempt to save the day, but the raid results in unexpected and rather gruesome casualties.
At a certain point, however, incessant violence seems to take over completely. What are viewers supposed to do with this? The action is exciting and makes sense as a result of such extremism, but after a while it lose its scope in relation to the point of the film as a whole. It’s “fun” if it’s just thought of as an action-horror movie but isn’t there supposed to be something more to it than that? However, this problem is hardly ruinous; even if the movie’s message lacks focus, as a horror-thriller “Red State” still packs an enjoyable, powerful punch.
Brooks is a contributing writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org