From the mind of writer/director Kevin Smith (Clerks), Red State is a film that ends up satirical, yet approaches one of the scarier and darker topics: what people are capable of doing if they believe in it enough. As this applies to the success stories of the richest people, it also applies to the most deranged and insidious. Perfect examples of the latter exist in this film.
Set in a ultra-conservative Southern backwoods town, three high school boys stumble upon a website advertising sex and end up witnesses to a life-threatening religious cult.
As almost all groups of friends work, there is a leader, a follower and mediator. In this case, Jarod (Kyle Gallner) portrays the leader, whose motivation lies solely in “getting laid.” The character of Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) is obviously the follower. Who with that name could not be pegged as the fool following in the footsteps of the equally foolish. Lastly, the character of Travis (Michael Angarano) assumes the role of the thinker. Yes he gives in to the peer pressure, but there is a certain independence to his character that shows he will longer than most in this film.
On a side note, as these pubescent boys mull over this ridiculous plan, the media is infested with stories of death and hate crimes in the area, particularly to the homosexual community. Even as the film opens, we are engulfed in a sea of hate from the members of the local 5-point Trinity Church. Under the command of Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), known by locals as “the creepy church guy that even the ultra-conservatives and Neo-Nazis are afraid of,” the church’s main goal is to eliminate all “sin-worshipers and wickedness in America.”
Fading back to the boys, who, as presumably all virgins still mystified by the through of the female genitalia, willingly accept this shady and too-good-to-be-true offer. Unfortunately, and as predicted, they failed to read the fine print on the offer and ended up falling into a trap set by the 5-points church to rid the community of sinners and sodomites.
In the next scenes, we are formally introduced to Cooper’s character and mindset and we sit in on one of his brain-washing sermons. Reminding me of a Jim Jones-type, Cooper feels that the only way to worship God is to fear Him and fear what He is capable of doing. In fact, Cooper’s fear in God is so strong that he and his follows systematically kill any and all sinners they can catch.
If it is not obvious enough, the boys are convicted of sinning and sentenced to death by this small congregation of lunatics. As fate has it, Jarod and Billy-Ray are able to escape captivity, but not for long. As they wonder the bowels of this dim lit maze, they find out some interesting and rather disturbing facts.
Instead of an arsenal of crucifixes, holy water and garlic, they have an arsenal of AK-47′s and high-powered weapons.
Transitioning from the arsenal, we queue to ATF special agent Joseph Keenen (John Goodman). A man of many pounds and little tolerance. After being called by local the local Sheriff Wynan (Stephen Root), Keenen further investigates the suspicious dealings in this House of God.
What he and his ATF task force find is a cloud of whizzing bullets, bible verses and ominous trumpet sounds taken from Steven Speilberg’s War of the Worlds. As for ending, omitting the details of course, we are witness to plot twists, blood pools, government corruption and a moral juggle between the identity of the true villains.
In closing, Red State is very much a Kevin Smith film. It was entertaining, morbidly fascinating and overall, something that could be happening this very moment. We are always hearing of these lunatics who, after obsessing over a belief or religious figure, commit atrocities and justify themselves through ambiguous scripture and doctrine.
What makes a film of this nature stand out in my mind is the fact that it didn’t play like a TV news broadcast. It wasn’t so much a regurgitation of all the things we fear, but satirical look into how crazy people are when an idea is repeatedly hammered into their minds.