As Bad As You Thought?: Red State
It all started a couple of years ago, when beloved cult filmmaker, Kevin Smith shocked his fans by announcing his intent to make a horror movie. The man from New Jersey had built his career on low budget comedy movies about slackers who could spout witty pop culture infused dialogue at the drop of a hat. Many wondered if this “horror” movie he was making would just feature Jay and Silent Bob getting hacked up by a masked monster of some kind; but Smith promised an actual horror movie. It took years for him to receive the funding necessary form him to make this movie as many deemed the movie a hard sell, but eventually everything fell into place, Smith had a cast with popular character actors such as; Melissa Leo, Stephen Root, and John Goodman and was finally able to make the movie. After much controversy and not being able to find a distributor for the film, Smith took on a self-righteous quest to take the movie on tour to build support. To the shock of many people this supposedly controversial movie which Smith had been working on for years sucked. I had heard many complaints about the film but there are many other films I have heard negative feedback on and I enjoyed them, given that I was already a fan of Smith I set out to see if this movie was really as bad as people were saying.
The movie starts with three teenage boys who are cut from standard forgettable horror movie victim cloth. They live in a small town where a Fred Phelps-esque preacher named Abin Cooperhad risen to prominence by leading a church which is also quite obviously inspired by Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church. For those of you unfamiliar with the subject, Phelps is a extremist minister who leads his own independent church populated almost exclusivity by his own family members, and in order to spread their message, that according to them God hates pretty much everything and everyone they picket and protest anywhere they can get attention. I digress, apparently the church is protesting at the funereal of a homosexual teenager who was killed recently, and of course being a horror movie, he is not the first to die mysteriously in the past couple of days. The three guys who may as well have targets painted onto their clothes, because it’s obvious they’re not gonna make it to the end of the flick, discover a web site where they can meet women for sex in there own hometown. For reasons unbeknownst to me they decide they can only do this if all three of them can take the woman together, it has only been a couple of years since I was a kid in high school, yet I never remember myself or any of the guys I encountered being giddy about having a foursome with their friends, I’m sure there are guys like that somewhere, but I have never met them.
That night they get a car and head out to meet the woman who will let them engage in a real life foursome, but on the way they hit the car of the local sheriff who is getting his own action via, the guy in the car with him. I’m beginning to think this entire town is populated by sex addicts, must be a great place to raise kids. Being the sheriff he will not let this stand, he asserts his full authority and….makes his deputy go find the car, I miss the good old days when corrupt small town sheriffs would have hunted those kids down personally and shot them or something. The three sex starved teenagers pull up to the old dark trailer surrounded by nothing but woods, and are welcomed by Oscar winning actress Melissa Leo, who is quite obviously up to something. Yet despite all this and the recent spree of unsolved murders in their area, the trio go inside and drink the beers she gives them, like a naive party girl at a frat party, these kids are truly lacking in Spider Senses.
Unsurprisingly, the beers are laced with drigs which leads to the kids being knocked unconscious. I’ll freely admit, at this point things are ridiculously dull, but fear not craziness is about to come, and it will be in spades. The victim played by Kyle Gallner, wakes up in a cage to the sound of old timey church music, and the crazy preacher Abin Cooper, alluded to in the beginning of the film finally makes his grand appearance and to the surprise of none, he is responsible for what is has happened to the teens. Cooper is played by veteran actor, Michael Parks who is easily the best part of this movie, with his performance he makes Cooper truly scary. As Parks delivers a sermon in character, he convinces you that Cooper is a man who truly believes the things he does are righteous but he is so charismatic that you can understand why people believe what he tells them, through his body language and and the way he speaks you can not help but get the chills from the man but at the same time you can not turn away. Many have complained that Smith spends too long on this scene, yet I have to disagree, the church service led by Cooper is easily the best part of the movie with a combination of Parks’ dynamic performance and the way the scene is filmed is perfect, as Kevin Smith shows you each of the nameless members of the Cooper family in the congregation you can tell a lot about each member just from a glance and what they are doing. True this scene runs longer than it should but as stated before it is a respite from what is about to come.
It is revealed during his sermon that he and his followers are responsible for the recent rash of murders, which I’m sure come as a surprise to nobody. Tied to the cross is his latest victim, a homosexual man he lured in using the internet as with the three teenagers. For a group of backwater hillbillies these people seem to have a good grasp on being expert internet predators, the likes of which Chris Hanson could not detect. The intended victim is wrapped in an obnoxious amount of Saran wrap, as are the kids who are also prisoners, which begs the question; how did nobody get suspicious amount the hatemongers buying so many spools of of plastic wrap at the same time dead bodies are turning up wrapped up in plastic wrap. It’s not like there are so many people in this clan that they can get away with it there’s only like eight people in the entire church.
Outside the church, the deputy charged with finding the car that hit the sheriff tracks it down to the church and using that as a distraction one of the three amigos, escapes. While Cooper tries to put the deputy at ease and get him to leave the poor kid runs for his life down a series of corridors that would out an old episode of Doctor Who to shame until he ends up in an arsenal and tries to use one of the weapons to defend himself. I’m sure he thought he would pull a Rambo and blow his way out of the church to safety, but unfortunately the guy chasing had a gun too and they end up killing each other. The gunshot alerts the idiot deputy outside that something is wrong with the church and as he radios it in, he too is shot. From there the good reverend uses the radio to taunt the sheriff about his late night activity in cars with other guys, which drives the poor man to tears and the brink of suicide, the problem is, the sheriff is played by Stephen Root, given that I can not take him seriously in the role of a depressed sheriff dealing with the possibility of taking his own life, I mean come on it’s the guy from Newsradio and King of the Hill.
This late into the game the movie completely switches focus as we are introduced to John Goodman who plays and ATF agent who has been investigating the church and a nice scene card tells us he is waken up at 4:47 AM to be told they have reason to suspect the church is up to something. Why Smith felt the need to tell us what time it was is beyond me, he has not done this in the movie yet and does not do it again. Back at the church the congregation collects the body of their fallen friend and all of a sudden there are two of the captured kids dead on the ground, but wasn’t there only one who escaped? Once the coast is clear the one we did not see get shot emerges, and is okay. But with the churchgoers pursuing his friend how did he escape then track down his friend then get into that room and lay down to play dead without anyone noticing? Questions like that apparently do not need answers as the kid picks up a gun and makes his escape only to be shot and killed by ATF agents who have surrounded the building with so much stealth that apparently nobody noticed they were there. And this is the point of the movie that Kevin Smith decides, that he no longer has any interest in making a movie about religious zealots kidnapping people and instead wants to make a movie about a stand off between wisecracking feds and domestic terrorists with high powered weapons. At this point tonality is thrown out the window in exchange for action and shootouts and the likable funnyman, John Goodman trying to reason over the phone with his moronic superiors who want him to leave no survivors. Now by his own admission, Smith can not direct action, and the movie, Cop Out will back him up 0n that statement, so I can not help but wonder why with a movie he has absolute control over he abruptly turns it into a cheesey B-Grade action flick.
In an undisclosed area the teenage daughter of Melissa Leo tries to reason with one of the Feds to let her and the children inside surrender themselves, a completely reasonable request, and it also shows that they know about a back door that either the Feds can storm in without taking fire or the church people can escape from, well Leo kills the agent and pulls her daughter back inside and this side door is never heard from again. This does give the daughter her first taste of teenage rebellion as she frees the only surviving prisoner to help her escape. The shootout continues for what feels like hours it is poorly shot and the tension that would be there is destroyed by the inane conversations that the people in the church are having and by the unintentionally comedic way John Goodman is blowing away all in his path in a way that would put Stallone to shame. We finally get a nice reprieve as a loud noise pierces the air and the congregation knows immediately what it is an begin to celebrate because the apocalypse has started. This movie has taken yet another turn in tonality so it seems. Abruptly we go to an office where Goodman is being interviewed by his superiors and he reveals he arrested the surviving members of the church; he also tells them that the trumpets were not the sign of apocalypse but prankish neighbors. And Kevin Smith gives us another abrupt change in tonality and decides, that like the churchgoers we the audience needed to be preached at, and he does not hold back in spouting his political opinions on matters such as; the PATRIOT Act and religion. I have no problem when someone uses entertainment to convey a social message, but I do have a problem when it’s blatantly forced in. And that’s where are movie ends.
So was this movie as bad as I thought? Yes, for one reason: it was not a horror movie. The hype surrounding the making of this movie was the fact that a director known for making stoner comedies was making a bonafied horror movie, but I know horror movies and this was not one. Sure parts of the movie are unsettling thanks to an incredible performance by Michael Parks but it never even attempts to be scary. Instead of fun scares we get a poorly made action film that seems to be a better fit for grindhouse movie. Granted there are some incredibly talented actors in this movie but with the exception of Parks they are all misused, Melissa Leo and Stephen Root are given nothing to do with the bland characters they are forced to play and Goodman is comes off as too comedic to be a shoot first kind of federal agent. Kevin Smith seems to change what the movie is about abruptly; it starts as a movie about kids taken prisoner by a church of extremists then it becomes a movie about ATF agents taking down a terrorist cell, in the end it’s a pulpit for Smith’s own opinions. From henceforth I think Kevin Smith should play it smart and stick to the foul mouthed misfits of New Jersey as the subjects of his films.