There’s a scene towards the end of Kevin Smith’s Red State where two perceived heroes, divided by loyalty and faith but united by shear desperation, attempt to escape a living hell full of brimstone and gunfire. They finally reach the good guys, one of who pulls out his sidearm and shoots both characters point blank in the head. This is the defining moment in Red State as it underlines the total lack of boundaries or predictability in this relentless, visceral thriller.
Smith finds inspiration from the Coen Brothers, but also emulates his indie brethren Rodriguez and Tarantino by mixing heavy dialogue moments with brutal comeuppance. It’s no surprise then that the poles in Red State are Coen standard John Goodman and Rodriguez/Tarantino favorite Michael Parks. They attack the film from two entirely different directions and ultimately lead it to its fascinating climax.
Parks, in particular, is a revelation as pastor Abin Cooper, the spiritual leader and patriarch of a fundamentalist religious group that makes the Westboro Baptist Church look like a sideshow. He preaches Smith’s dialogue in large, creepy doses to his family, including daughter Sarah (Melissa Leo), the linchpin in the church’s trap set for three horny teenage boys looking for sex. The church’s plans go awry in splendid fashion, and you very quickly recognize this isn’t going to be a typical tale of heroes and villains.
Goodman arrives with the government cavalry to face off against what has become an increasingly and more obvious threat inside the walls of Cooper’s Dell. He’s trying to avoid another Waco but Cooper and his clan do everything in their power to taunt the might of the ATF agents. In that aforementioned confrontation of our would-be heroes, one of Goodman’s men follows orders a bit too much to the letter. I shared the shock on Goodman’s face and audible cursed my own shock. Of course, by then nothing was sacred and nobody was untouchable in this Molotov cocktail of action, horror, and religion.
Credit to Kevin Smith for taking a major left-turn in his career, both in style and story. Humor (his bread and butter) is used conservatively and naturally. Smith’s editing aids the frantic pace of the film. His long-time cinematographer Dave Klein enters the big leagues here with some clever, ominous photography, major strides from previous View Askew films. And ultimately, Smith and producer Jon Gordon’s recruitment of a variety of talented actors, both old and young, helps enhance the words and actions that spring off the pages of Red State.
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