Red State is a Grim Snapshot of Modern America

by Mike Worby

10 Years Later: Looking back at Kevin Smith’s Red State

When you think of the directors behind some of the best horror films of the last five years or so, your mind will naturally go to guys like Adam Wingard (You’re Next), Ti West (The House of the Devil), or David Robert Mitchell (It Follows).

Where it probably won’t go is in the general direction of someone like Kevin Smith, which is actually too bad because Smith, best known for slacker, gen-X comedies like Clerks and Mallrats, actually crafted one of the most brilliant and original horror movies of the current decade in the form of Red State.

Originally released in 2011, Red State is a peculiar film, particularly from a genre standpoint. What begins as the sort of teen romp comedy that Smith would be perfectly at home with (three horny teens turn to the Internet in hopes of losing their virginity), the film soon takes a dramatic left turn which sends it down a decidedly darker path.

Kevin Smith's Red State
Things may start off light in Red State but they get grim pretty damn fast.

The teens do indeed make a rendezvous with an older woman who will see their carnal pleasures excised, but only after a few beers, beers which are unfortunately drugged. When the boys come to, it is under the most dire of circumstances, in the chapel of a local fringe church that happens to be taking their extreme fundamentalist views one step further. Lead by the charismatic Abin Cooper (a show-stopping turn from character actor Michael Parks), the Five Points followers have taken to abducting and executing sinners.

The teens themselves (played by Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano and Nicholas Braun) witness the seriousness of the situation almost immediately when they watch a man plastic-wrapped to a cross executed in front of the congregation and dropped down a chute in the floor.

It’s a grim situation, and it only gets grimmer when the ATF shows up. Headed by the inimitable John Goodman, a task force arrives at Five Points just as the captive teens are making a desperate escape attempt, and as the congregation members arm themselves for a standoff, all hell breaks loose.

Red State
The already tense proceedings get their ante upped when the ATF show up to raid the compound.

Morphing from its tenuous comedic roots, Red State takes the form of action-thriller, psychological chiller, and all-out horror as the stakes are raised by one shocking plot twist after another. Characters are unceremoniously killed like extras on Game of Thrones–or, well, anyone on Game of Thrones really–and as the cast thins out, the survivors grow increasingly desperate.

Inspired both by the extreme nature of fringe religious groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and law enforcement disasters like the Waco incidentRed State has plenty of ammo to draw from in order to make its points. Viewers will sympathize with an ATF agent frantically arguing with higher-ups in a time of crisis, just as much as they will identify with the youngsters in both the abducted teen and indoctrinated youth camps of Five Points survivors, each besieged by a heavily armed assault.

Kevin Smith's Red State
Michael Parks’ show-stopping turn as the leader of the Five Points church is still the best reason to see Red State.

As the blood flows and the plot thickens, one last turn of the screw is unleashed in a final scene that will have your jaw on the floor. It’s not worth getting into spoilers here, but as a tiny morsel to whet your appetite let’s just say that things get pretty fuckin’ biblical. Though the scene is ultimately a bit of misdirection, it speaks to the endlessly evolving scope of the film that you’re willing to believe that something so audacious could absolutely be possible in a movie that began with three high school kids trying to get laid.

Powered by some incredibly authentic performances (particularly from John Goodman, Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, Kyle Gallner, and Kerry Bishe) and a palpable sense of escalating tension, Red State is the kind of movie that will leave you mentally unpacking its various parts for days to come.

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6 comments

Ricky D Fernandes October 24, 2016 - 10:34 pm

What is it with you and Kevin Smith. I’ll never forget when you c0-hosted the Sordid Cinema podcast and defended TUSK. Kevin Smith has made one good movie … Chasing Amy … and that is it. 😛

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Mike Worby October 24, 2016 - 11:04 pm

I would disagree, I would say that he has made 4 good films: Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Red State. On the other hand, he’s made at least as many bad films, so I can see why people harsh out on him a bit at this point.

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Patrick Murphy October 25, 2016 - 12:21 am

Man, Clerks is hard to watch now, but I’ll give you Chasing Amy and Dogma, and maybe Jay and Silent Bob if I’m feeling generous. His name has become a warning sign for me these days, but I’ll check this out.

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Ricky D Fernandes October 25, 2016 - 12:37 am

I need to watch DOGMA again, but Patrick is right … Clerk is not good. It doesn’t stand the test of time in my book.

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Michael Riser October 30, 2016 - 3:55 am

Kinda with you. But I still have a soft spot for it. It’s a product of its time, and it WAS good. Clerks 2, however, was never good. Not even a little bit.

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Michael Riser October 30, 2016 - 3:55 am

I’m not a fan of his at all, but I do want to see this one. Just because I want to see what he does when he does something that seems so far out of his wheelhouse.

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