I heard a lot of hype about this film before I saw it, so I made sure to steer clear of any spoilers or trailers whatsoever. What I walked into was a shocking commentary on the brutal ethics that guide religious cults, and the danger of negligence. What was perhaps the most shocking part of Red State was the director. This horrific depiction of Christian extremists was created by the unlikely Kevin Smith. That’s right, Clerks, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and even Jersey Girl Kevin Smith, directed a horror drama about Southern, narrow-minded Christians, who take their religion as seriously as life and death. The movie starts out with the main character, Travis, riding to school in the car with his mother, as they pass by their local fundamentalist church-goers protesting the funeral of a homosexual teenager. Travis and his mother make a few utterances of displeasure, then keep driving. Cut to school, and three teenage boys are sneaking a glance at some porn during lunch. One of the boys, Jarod, claims that he knows an escort that he met online, who will have sex with all three of the boys at the same time. After some hesitation from each party, the three friends agree that the close proximity with one another was worth the sexual experience. Later that night, Travis, Jarod, and Billy-Ray drive to the area described by Jarod’s friend, expecting a wild of fun and sexual freedom. Unfortunately, the members of the Five Points Trinity Church have other plans.
I really liked the concept of this movie. I’ve often wondered why more horror directors haven’t used religion as an evil in their films. The occult is often shown, with the devil or a random demon as the possessor of souls, or the turbulence that creates a storm in one’s life, but what about the other side of religion? The idea of a god watching over us, and his loyal fundamentalist followers judging us, is a perfect tool to create fear in a scary movie. I’m glad Kevin Smith chose to use this topic as the basis for his film, because it not only shows that he can makes different kinds of films, but it will hopefully encourage other directors to tread through this dark topic for their movies, too. The preacher was the best part of this movie. Michael Parks delivered a fiery sermon as Abin Cooper, the maniacal priest who seethes power and deception. He embodied the personality of a well articulated and totally insane head of a homophobic group that’s out for destruction. However, his monologue ran on for too long, as did other conversations throughout the movie. Kevin Smith is a great director, but he seems to have trouble cutting out any of his conversations in this movie.
I must take this moment to express my loathing of Kyle Gallner. I could be slightly biased after reading his insults about the original A Nightmare On Elm Street movie in an interview, but I don’t believe that’s the entire reason. He’s just not a very good actor. He’s the same person in every role, whether it be: The Haunting in Connecticut, Jennifer’s Body, A Nightmare on Elm Street, or Red State, Gallner can’t seem to express any emotion other than impish depression. Horror directors everywhere: please stop casting Kyle Gallner in your movies. I’m tired of watching him cry for two and a half hours.
Kevin Smith effectively demonstrates the bystander effect. It’s completely normal to see bad things occur and move on with your day like nothing happened. It’s called the bystander effect, because you believe that someone else will come along and solve the problem. It is this belief that allows us to pass by homeless people on the street while only feeling the least bit, if any, remorse. It doesn’t mean we’re all sinners or anything, it just means that we’re human. When we see the news reports of religious cults overstepping their boundaries on television, it bothers us, but we don’t really believe that the group will ever touch us personally. You never think you’ll ever be in real danger until it happens, and by then, it’s too late. Kevin Smith executes this statement well in this aspect. Despite his success in illustrating the bystander effect, it’s confusing what exactly Smith is trying to get across to his audience. Throughout the feature, the church members are portrayed as homophobic bigots who resort to violence to get their way. Yet, the government, who is trying to shut down their wicked operation, is also shown as evil. They, too, use violence as a means to an end. Even the children, who were harassed by the church, aren’t really given any redeeming qualities. They’re cocky, immature, and funny teenagers, but none of them display kind emotions toward each other. Also, their stupidity, in a way, leads to their downfall. It’s easy to feel Kevin Smith’s frustration in the film, but it’s unsure who his anger is aimed towards.
Cumuatively, Red State is worth watching. Kevin Smith demonstrates his range as a director, by creating an action/horror film, as opposed to his usual dramatic comedies. In fact, this is the one of the only Kevin Smith movies that doesn’t include Jay and Silent Bob. The movie would benefit greatly from some heavy editing, especially when it comes to the dialogue, and a clearer message overall. What exactly is Red State trying to say? Is this film trying to depict the danger that’s associated with religious extremists? Is it trying to blame the government for its brutal tactics? Or is it saying that each individual should become more involved in the ridding of local hate groups? Kevin Smith is able to create memorable characters, exciting gun fights, and a beautiful composition, but his exact declaration remains unclear.