Kevin Smith’s highly-anticipated foray into the horror genre is a surprisingly strange critique of our country’s post-9/11 climate of fear and caution. Somewhere in middle America sits the Five Point Trinity Church, a family-based religious sect of ultra-ultra conservatives who “even the Neo-Nazis distance themselves from.” At the pulpit stands family patriarch Abin Cooper (playfully portrayed by Kill Bill‘s Michael Parks), whose hate-filled rants cover everything from monsoons to Thai prostitutes. His family are mostly nondescript rednecks (with the exception of Melissa Leo) who gleefully shout unholy “Amens” and gay-bashing “Hallelujahs”. They also say lines like “You watch that gay saliva, if it gets on ya, it can turn ya,” the intentions of which on Smith’s part are difficult to determine. So three horny teenage guys follow a fake classified ad that is supposed to lead them into the arms of a prostitute, but instead has them end up in the clutches of the sadistic Five Pointers. The sequences featuring their imprisonment and subsequent escape attempts are as legitimately intense as any of those found in modern horror films, which is exactly what Smith wants you to think is on the table. The film quickly takes a strange turn with the introduction of John Goodman as special agent Joseph Keenan who is soon involved in a standoff with the crazed Christians until he decides to attack the compound sans permission. The film descends into shaky cam action territory as the rednecks with machine guns battle the soulless government agents that turn out to be reasonable when compared to their corrupt higher-ups. The film’s final sequence in which Keenan is reprimanded by his superiors is played like a Hitchcockian wrap-up in which all of Smith’s intentions are laid bare in the form of a critique of the Patriot Act and homegrown eco-terrorism (kinda). The film is intermittently compelling though its success is debatable and its theme a common one: the true horror is reality and it’s all around you.
Red State is available now on VOD. It will receive a local screening on September 25 at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute accompanied by a live conversation with Kevin Smith via Skype.