Film Review: Red State (2011)

Melissa Leo as Sarah
Melissa Leo as Sarah

Marketed as “an unlikely film from that Kevin Smith”, Red State does seem rather left-of-centre from the man who brought us Clerks and Chasing Amy. The film surrounds three young teenage boys (Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and Ronnie Cornell) who have arranged for a sexual rendezvous with a woman out in the woods through an online forum. The woman (Melissa Leo) turns out to be a member of the highly devout and over zealous local Christian group. Held captive by the religious zealots, Red Statefollows the boys attempted escape and a subsequent police standoff.

Extremely bloody and violent with elements of a thriller, Red State is not the typical horror film. Its horror is more ingrained within the capacity for evil, rather than by actual physicalised violence. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of gore and bloodshed, but Red State’s interests are more involved in lampooning a Christian fundamentalist group.

Humourous moments do occur in the film, despite being the radical departure from the usually comical Smith. Though it is not jokes per se, but rather a snappy dialogue that feature throughout the film. Fast paced editing (also provided by Smith) helped in this regard too. Indeed maybe ten seconds were spared with distributor/production company titles before the film began. Instantly, we are thrown into Red State’s orbit. And what a compelling force it has!

Michael Parks is the best in show as the preacher and leader of the Five Points Church. His rambling yet coherent sermons pulsate and ultimately climax with reverence that is complete insanity. Melissa Leo also gives a solid performance, as does John Goodman. The cast is supported well by a strong ensemble including Stephen Root and the three boys (Angarano, Braun and Connell.)

Inherent disdain for the callousness and rage of fundamentalist religious organisations proves to be of strong vitriolic fervour in Red State. Constitutional disdain is included too, set up with a classroom discussion after the Five Points Church protested outside the funeral of a local homosexual who was murdered. The first amendment right of free speech and its shortcomings are detailed through this protesting example and continue onto the second amendment and its right to bear arms. These discussions place what is to follow in important context.

Without spoiling the ending, the final five minutes seem to be disingenuous with the preceding 85 minutes. Awkward convenient dialogue neatly and cynically wraps up the story and cuts away from what could have been an extremely gratifying final moment.

Despite it’s problematic ending, Smith depicts a fundamentalist religious group (a not-so-hidden fictional proxy for the Westboro Baptist Church) as more aligned to a terrorist operation. This is not an analogy, but more a vehement parade of satire. Not since Dogma has Smith been so radical in his filmmaking, and it is a pleasure to see a return to a film with a strong message.

Red State is on current release through Curious Films.

4 blergs
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ1v6oFHefc]
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