Reader Requests – Red State (2011)

Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda. (IMDB synopsis)

Good old Kevin Smith. Well, I say that; actually, I’ve only seen one of his films to date. However, I’ve been asked to review Red State by my friend Ross, and I’ll be interested to see how this one holds up. Maybe I’ll get more of a sense of Smith’s directing style. Also, Wikipedia calls this film an ‘action-adventure-thriller-horror’, so I’m counting it as a horror film. So there. Nyuuuh. That was me sticking my tongue out, by the way. In case you were wondering. Yeah, you’re right, it WAS rude and childish. My apologies.

Review:

A mother and her son Travis are driving past the funeral of a recently deceased teenager. Aaaaaand wouldn’t you know it, said funeral is being picketed by a miliant Christian group/Not Westboro Baptist church/actually quite good at making horrible placards. Wait a second, I know that guy! That’s actor Michael Parks, aka Howard Howe from Tusk! This should be a lot of fun.
So Travis makes it into school, and it quickly becomes apparent that’s he’s not the best student, but he’s not much different from the rest of the class, so I’ll let that slide. He and his friends Jarod and Billy-Ray are looking for lonely middle aged women in their area with whom they can have… sex. Yes, I stopped using the word ‘shenanigans’. Don’t worry, I’m picking and choosing between a few different euphemisms as we speak; we’ll have a new one in time for the next review.

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So anyway, one of the bros has found the perfect site for contacting such women. He claims:

“It’s like Craigslist for people who want to get f***ed.”

So… Craigslist.

“I thought Craigslist was Craigslist for people who want to get f***ed.”

…Yeah.
Anyway, the boys find a thirty-eight-year-old lady who wants to have her wicked way with all three of them at once, and they decide to go ahead with it after not much hesitation. They head off in Travis’s mother’s car, knocking into a red car on the way there, and arrive at the woman, Sara’s trailer. She gets the teens boozed up and seems strangely repulsed at the thought of doing, as she puts it, the devil’s business. And then the boys simultaneously collapse on her floor. Ahhhhh, THAT explains it.
As you’d expect, they wake up imprisoned in the Cooper family compound, also known as the Five Points Trinity Church. Jarod finds himself in a cage and yells the usual, “This isn’t funny anymore, let me the hell out”. I suppose it’s hard to get around this part of any horror film, but oh man, am I sick of hearing it. He hears Pastor Cooper give a hate-filled sermon and kill a gay teen right there on the stage, and begins to freak out. And that’s the film pretty much set up for you.
Now, going into the film, I was convinced that the Cooper family was intended to be a not-so-loving send-up to the Phelps family. They certainly share similar ideologies and philosophies, and both have their patriarchal (or should that be grandpatriarchal?) head of the church. However, the Phelps family is actually referenced about halfway through the film, so they DO exist in this film’s universe; they’re just ‘not gun nuts like the Coopers’. Yeah, Pastor Cooper and his family are packing heat. Surprise!
So, yeah, I’m not sure why Kevin Smith included both groups in this movie’s world. He certainly went to great lengths to assure that the Cooper family’s church resembled that of the Phelps family. Even the name, the Five Points Trinity Church, references the five points of Calvinism which the Westboro Baptist Church stoutly defend.
(While researching this, I also found out that Smith invited the Phelps family to watch his film, and a few members subsequently protested the film at the Sundance Film Festival. However, they were vastly outnumbered by counter-protesters, which I find highly amusing.)
Now, the teenaged friends who are captured by the Cooper family are not much to write home about. They aren’t given much personality, and since they all die senselessly anyway, I shan’t dwell. It’s hard to know who the film’s protagonist is, especially given the tonal shift halfway through (something I noticed with Tusk) and the fact that the film’s point of focus shifts back and forth. I’ll try and explain it in the next few paragraphs.
Turns out that the red car near the beginning belonged to Sheriff Wynan, who was sharing it with am extramarital male lover of his. Pastor Cooper blackmails him with this fact after Wynan hears about the family’s illegal activities. But never mind that now – Wynan calls up ATF Special Agent Keenan to take care of the family. But never mind THAT now – Billy-Ray and Travis are making their courageous gun-blazing escape from the house. Oh, but NEVER MIND THAT NOW – Wynan shot Travis in the head and Keenan’s got the order to treat the family as a terrorist group and go in with deadly force. OH BUT NEVER MIND THA-
Ahem. You get the picture. Remember how I mentioned the tonal shift at around the mid-way point? Yes, now that one of the younger Cooper family members knows what the ATF guys have planned, she tries to get Jarod to cooperate and get the kids out of the house. This plan does succeed – and not for the reason you’d expect – but still, I find it interesting that the film dwells on these family interactions. It’s hard to tell if these scenes are intended to make the family sympathetic or simply show how deluded their ideals are. In fact, Smith seems to be taking as many shots at the government as he does at the religious fanatics. It’s right there in the title – Red State – which refers to a state in the USA that predominantly elects Republican Party members. For my British readers, the Republican Party has more conservative traditionalist values, i.e. continuing to exclude homosexuals from the military. There’s a bigger message being alluded to. I just wish I understood it. The film’s ending doesn’t clear up very much, and it’s far removed from anything remotely horror-related.

Final Verdict:

I think the most horrifying thing about this film is the idea that religious organisations like this are free to exist, even if the real Phelps family aren’t armed to the teeth. There’s the whole ‘abduction by a bunch of psychos’ thing going on, but the majority of the teens don’t die by their hands. I loved Michael Park’s portrayal of a charismatic religious fanatic, and Red State is a movie that made me think, but it didn’t make me scared.

Rating:

6 1/2 jam sandwiches.

P.S. Turns out Michael Parks can sing and play piano! Even if he DOES sound like a piously perverted Randy Newman.

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