I like Kevin Smith as a filmmaker. Though I had my reservations about him making a horror film (seriously, why? Why make a horror film?), I really wanted to like Red State. Overall the movie isn’t really bad per se; it is bizarre, fairly thought-provoking, and decently entertaining. While there are several moments in the film that make me blurt out, “What? Really?…Seriously?”, Kevin Smith is a good filmmaker who can create very watchable films. But, sadly, the overall effect of Red State is ho-hum.
The film is about an extremeist Christian group called the Five Point Trinity sect led by preacher Abin Cooper (played very well by Michael Parks). The members of Five Points usually occupy themselves with protesting gay funerals and other homophobic activities. Unsurprisingly, they also have a more sinister agenda that involves luring young men into trailer parks with the promise of gangbangs with older women, then kidnapping them and laying their sin-filled lives at the foot of the cross. This is how Red State begins, with a group of three boys (Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and Kyle Gallner) happily responding to an internet ad for NSA sex. After being ruffied by a fanatical true believe (a very unrestrained Melissa Leo), they wake to find themselves imprisoned and witness to the murder of another homosexual sinner. The movie becomes increasingly disjointed and chaotic from here – as two of the boys lead a ill-fated escape attempt, a local cop is murdered, and ATF Agent Joe Keenan (John Goodman) is sent in to arrest the sect for possession of illegal firearms. This is also the point, however, that Red State begins to look less and less like a horror flick and becomes more difficult to classify. Despite the lack of character development and the lack of a clear protagonist or story line, Kevin Smith manages to pace the film in such a way that keeps the viewers watching until the equally bizarre ending.
As I said before, Red State really has a lot of interesting elements and Smith makes many brave decisions – killing off what appear to be the main characters, refusing to paint any character as purely ‘good’ – but, the movie is flawed. First off, it isn’t a horror film…period. Viewers who are drawn in by the DVD cover – the pretty Kerry Bishé in shorts holding an automatic rifle – will be quickly confused by the bait-and-switch. Most importantly, the movie seems mean-spirited (and not in the conventional horror movie fashion).
It is no secret that Kevin Smith has a rather harsh view of fundamental Christians. I also share a dislike for any group that so aggressively promotes hatred for those who are different and proselytizes so intensely. However, Kevin Smith attacks the members of the Five Points sect mercilessly and portrays them as a group of crazed, hopelessly under-educated psychopaths who are so eager to pass through the gates of Heaven that they’ll open fire on anyone and willingly sacrifice the lives of their children. Yes, there are groups out there like this (though one has to hope not this black-and-white in their extremism), but Smith’s portrayal of the Five Points sect seems just as intolerant and bigoted as the Christians he is trying to ‘satirize.’ Similarly, his depiction of the ATF agents is equally harsh in its simplistic condemation. Each of the men are portrayed as slaves to the chain-of-command – even when they are well aware of the ethical and moral crimes they are committing. Kevin Smith has painted all of his characters in short, board strokes and refuses to even acknowledge any gray area in their decisions and actions. Perhaps that’s the point of the film – that everyone is evil with no redeeming qualities – but that seems somehow unlikely. Mostly, it just comes across as very mean.
Red State is interesting and Kevin Smith is clearly talented. But the movie doesn’t prove to me that Smith should ever make a transition into the horror genre or that he can create horror films with the same understated mastery he demonstrates in his earlier, non-horror works (Mallrats, Clerks, Dogma). The film is a head-scratcher (mostly because it’s so confusing why he is making this movie and what the point ultimately is) but I doubt anyone will be inspired to rewatch it or buy their very own copy on DVD.