Saturday, October 22, 2011

Red State (2011) -Review

Kevin Smith's Red State offical poster
Kevin Smith's Red State

My plans for this weekend didn’t include writing a review for Red State.  Actually my plans didn’t even include watching Red State the new Kevin Smith film.  I had heard of the film, as almost everyone in the horror community has, but it just wasn’t in my priority list of movies to watch.  I had hoped to catch the film on the big screen, but that didn’t materialize.

 I knew it was released on video, but I guess I just didn’t buy into the hype.  I have been disappointed so many times, and honestly I had expected Smith was going to make basically a “conservatives are evil” propaganda film based on the name.  It was filed into the “watch it whenever” category.

After watching it I can say that Red State, does not belong in the “watch it whenever” file.  It belongs in the go out and buy it and watch Red State now category. 
Michael Parks chilling performance in Red State
Michael Parks from Kevin Smith's Red State as Abin Cooper

Red State is probably the most chilling American film I have seen since; well actually I don’t know when I was last this terrified.  Red State is a horror film that is all too real.  It could happen tomorrow, it could happen today, it could already be happening as I type this.

Based loosely on real life events and people, it paints a grim picture of religious fanatics, and post 9/11 America and the Patriot Act. Red State stars Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, and Kevin Pollack.

Parks portrays a fanatical minister based loosely on the reverend Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church.  Smith does make it clear that Parks church is far to the extreme of Phelps, but the similarities are all too real to ignore.  Parks character Abin Cooper is the paternal leader of his Five Points Church, which like Westboro is basically composed of family members and their spouses.

 The group also protests what it calls the acceptance of homosexuality by the American government and people.  Unlike the real life counterparts, the Five Points Church takes its protests to far more sinister and violent ends.

Parks pretty much rules his every scene.  I seriously, no joke, got chills during his first onscreen appearance and sermon.  Far from overacting, he got it right.  His sermon was one that way too many people hear in real life each week.  He was the epitome of a charismatic fanatic without being a caricature of one.  If the reverend Abin Cooper and what he stands for doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

Cooper isn’t the only villain in Red State though.  The ATF’s actions are heavily based on the assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.  True we don’t know what orders were really given in Waco, this is fiction after all, but it’s not too farfetched to believe an order very similar was given.

John Goodman, who as ATF agent Keenan at first appears to be a heroic character, becomes a villain to rival Parks.  Keenan like Parks is an all too realistic character.  A man so unwilling to challenge authority he orders a bloodbath.  You can see Goodman is tortured by his decision to follow orders, but he follows them just the same.

In fact everyone who lives long enough gets corrupted in Red State.  Even the ATF agent who first disagrees with Goodman becomes a cold blooded killer.  Sheriff Wynan mistakenly shoots one of the hostages as they escape, but one wonders if it was really his intent to trigger a bloodbath.  

Wynan, played by Stephen Root, is the county sheriff and a closet homosexual.  Being gay in a film like this, Root could easily be a sympathic hero.  Instead his fear of exposure makes him a weak man and eventually leads to the bloodbath in the film.

Red State is a film that breaks the usual rules of film.  There are no real heroes, only villains and victims.  The closest to a hero is the cultist Cheyenne, played by Kerry Bishé, who is willing to sacrifice anything to save the children at the compound.  Smith keeps us in the dark as to the fate of the children so we never know if her death was meaningless or not.

Goodman does eventually act to stop the bloodbath. Sadly his moral awakening comes too late to do much good.  Goodman appears as a broken man at the end of the film.

Red State is a film about fear.  Fear and how it can drive us to be less than human.  Goodman is afraid of losing his job so he does what he knows is horrible.  The government is scared of “terrorists” so they order the incursion.  The Sheriff is scared of being exposed so he lets himself be blackmailed by the church.

Even the church members are scared.  Parks preaches fear of God into his flock, but they are also afraid that their way of life is changing.  Afraid of the “homosexual menace”, fear of hell.  Fear of disobeying the charismatic Abin Cooper.  

Red State is all about fear and the dark alleys it leads us down.  It is also a very real film.  A Film that, God help us isn’t echoed in real life anytime soon.

Kevin Smith's Red State
Kevin Smith's Red State

As a post script, I would like to add I would love to see Kevin Smith one day film his original ending.  I understand why he had to change it, but that would have been the perfect ending.

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