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Red State – 7

Director – Kevin Smith

Cast – Kyle Gallner, Melissa Leo, Michael Parks, Dermot Mulroney, Michael Angarano, Steven Root, John Goodman, Ronnie Connell, Nicholas Braun, Matt L. Jones

Release Year – 2011

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I am not the most knowledgeable of Kevin Smith’s films, not because I do not like them, but just because I failed to take the time to give them a chance.  When I first heard of Red State I interested to see that Kevin Smith would delve into the horror genre, but the more I read on the film the less interested I was.  At first it came off as a slasher film, then when I saw that it would be more of a psychological thriller I lost interest and went with other more horrific films to review.  I do enjoy horror films involving religion, so when this recent opportunity to give this piece a watch presented it self I took it and was unsurprisingly given positive results.  Why unsurprising?  Well, I did expect this to be a good film, I just was not sure as to how much horror it would bring – and thankfully the horror provided was fun and worthwhile.

Set in Bible Belt country of middle America, three teenage boys accept an online invitation for sex and soon find themselves the helpless victims of a rogue fanatic church with sinister intentions of punishing their evil.

Utilizing religious fanatics in horror is not a new idea, but once that seems to work fairly well given how many horror films use it, and how some of them have stood the test of time as classics like The Wicker Man, one of my personal favorites.  This time we are given a unique twist to this religious horror element in that it involves a real-life replication of the sadly infamous Westboro Baptist Church, known for their extreme religious fantaticism.  I enjoyed this idea in that it gave me and other viewers something to relate to, and of course you can rely on Kevin Smith to involve pop culture in this film.

The storyline is a simple but enjoyable one, and it does not take long before our young protagonists find themselves drugged, bound, and suffering imprisonment within the walls of one very messed up church.  They are subjected to listen to pastor Abin Cooper preach his hate speech regarding homosexuals and sinners overall, and it also does not take long before they desperately try to escape the church/compound.  One element that I did not see coming was a heavy one involving law enforcement, where the ATF is called to take on the compound and results in one hell of a firefight lasting the entire third act.  It is obvious that Kevin Smith is highly critical of religious fanatics, especially the Westboro Baptist Church, but he also takes up arms against the ATF, which has been known to be highly corrupt in their actions and he plays on that in this piece.  The horror provided is not as full-frontal as some would expect given this story gives us horror in the form of the drastic and insane events that take place at the hands of this church’s congregation, which thanks to the subject matter came off pretty darn horrific.  We are given a slew of characters to watch, some good and some not so good, but Smith excelled greatly in his usage of pastor Abin Cooper.  His character was marvelously written with incredible dialogue that had me engaged throughout this experience, even during his 16 minute sermon that we are forced to endure I was pretty interested in what was going on although I have read numerous accounts that it was just too long.

Smith’s direction was good, giving us positive atmosphere and good execution of the horror overall.  I loved how well he executed Abin Cooper, who was expertly portrayed by Michael Parks (From Dusk Till Dawn) in a very charismatic and enjoyable role.  Smith stated that if Michael Parks had not agreed to the film then the film would have been scrapped, and I can see why he wanted Parks so badly for the role – the guy is a pro.  The rest of those involved were positive as well, including horror vet Kyle Gallner(The Haunting in Connecticut, A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, Jennifer’s Body) as the lead protagonist, and it was fun to watch John Goodman portray the lead ATF dumbo and handle fully automatic weapons.  Most of the kill sequences were decently gory, and we were given many of them due to the numerous characters involved from all of the warring parties. I am not sure how knowledgeable Kevin Smith is regarding firearms, but his execution of the heavy firearm element was fantastic as he gave us many cool guns to marvel at as well as actors who seemed to be fairly familiar with how to hold and manipulate the weapons, which was required for their characters. I mentioned earlier that the horror is more psychological and has to do with the heinous actions the church takes to rid society of sin, and Smith did a fantastic job executing it, especially the gut-wrenching first kill that set the tone for the rest of the film.

Overall, Red State is a fun film that is sure to please fans of Smith’s work, but also those who enjoy horror involving religious fanatics thanks to his great execution of the fanatics in this film. There is plenty of action and kills, and sweet performances from all involved made for a pretty engaging horror experience.

Rating: 7/10

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