Short Ends and Leader

God(less) In Three Persons/Parts: 'Red State'

As separate acts, as well written movements meant to completely undermine the state of organized religion today, Red State is mesmerizing.

Red State

Rated: R
Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun,Ronnie Connell
Extras: 6
Studio: Lionsgate
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-10-18 (General release)
UK date: 2011-10-18 (General release)

If this is how Kevin Smith chooses to "go out," more power to him. Sincerely. After nearly two decades of walking the fine line between indie cult icon and meaningless mainstream unknown, he's announced that he plans on 'retiring,' of taking time off to foster new filmmakers and new avenues of creativity and distribution. As an opening salvo in the latter, he's come up with a imaginative roadshow release of his latest film, the horror-tinged religious diatribe Red State. Playing out in three distinct acts and handling all aspect of dogma with determined criticism, this is one brave and often brilliant film. It's only failure? Suggesting that Smith, just as he's about to curtail his original output, is sitting squarely at the top of his craft.

Three horny high school boys – Jared (Kyle Gallner), Travis (Michael Angarano), and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) are planning a rendezvous with a woman they found on "the Craigslist for Sex." Located near the notorious Five Points Church, led by the fire and brimstone troublemaker Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), they're only concerned about losing their virginity. On the way, they accidentally run into a vehicle on the side of the road. What they don't know is that closeted homosexual Sheriff Wynan (Stephen Root) was in the car, and he's intent upon catching the hit and run trio.

When they finally find their intended paramour, she's a simple woman (Melissa Leo) living in a trailer. A couple of spiked beers later and the boys are prisoners of the insane minister. Convinced he can rid the world of corruption via killing off all "sinners," Cooper's compound is heavily armed, and his flock ready to defend their fundamentalist faith. This draws the attention of the ATF, and a field agent (John Goodman) who wants to bring them all to justice – he just doesn't want to kill everyone inside the church in the process.

As separate acts, as well written movements meant to completely undermine the state of organized religion today, Red State is mesmerizing. Smith, always known for his witty dialogue and complex screenplays, delivers one of his best here, a rant and anecdote based dissertation which argues for the evil inherent in belief, as well as the misunderstanding of same from the outside. This is no hyperbolic missive meant to paint all Christians as fanatics. Instead, Smith sets-up a situation (a radical sect that believes in literal interpretations of the Gospel, especially when it comes to homosexuality) and then slowly peels back the layers of hypocritical ludicrousness.

Cooper can be very convincing, especially as essayed by Parks. He is a preacher who can turn on the evangelism, as well as speak the language of the everyday man. As a collection of preaching tics, he's terrific…and terrifying…and telling. Since Red State isn't out to support the position of the religious right, there are definite villains here. But instead of making Cooper out to be a maniac, or martyr, he is instead treated as the head of an extended family who feels the same exact way he does. Certainly the sentiments are questionable, but this is not a problem of raging insanity. Instead, these people have created their own insular world, and when threatened from the outside, they lash out in the extreme.

Initially, Smith clearly wants to comment on how wrongheaded belief can become. These people honestly feel that they can kill members of the community and get away with it, since the Bible makes it clear that they are (perceivably) in the right. Similarly, the sequence where Cooper lays out his teachings is stunning, logical without losing its lunatic edge. Once we see the bloody results of such a strategy, the movie moves into another calculated criticism. During this middle act, sacrifice and the uselessness of same are accentuated, the deaths of several noted characters creating a situation in which the promise of everlasting life smashes directly into the truth about mortality. Instead of gladly giving up their physical body to experience the spirituality guaranteed, they take up arms and fight back, ferocious in their desire to defeat "their enemy."

From then, Red State becomes a reminder of why religion reacts so vehemently when attacked. Channeling controversial tragedies such as Waco while working in elements of the War on Terror and The Patriot Act, Smith suggests that neither response is right. Indeed, once the Feds show up and the big guns literally come out, the movie makes its strongest statement – religion results in violence no matter what side you are on. The faithful will oppress the heathen, the wicked with try and destroy the believer, the normal will pick on the extreme, and the ultimate decision on right usually rests on who has the better weaponry. If this was it, if this was all Smith had to say, Red State would be good. But a last minute shout-out to Revelations (and the resulting effect of same) turns are terrific film into a near masterwork.

Besides, this is not your typical Kevin Smith film. During the various action sequences and escapes, the director employs a few new tricks – cameras attached to the actors, interesting editorial choices and cross cuts. While the dialogue digs deep, the manner in which the movie is produced and put on film also demands respect. As for the acting, Parks is just perfect. It's Oscar caliber work from the moment we see him. Looking ragged yet ready to fight, he spits out his sermons with incredible verve, His cadences draw us in, and his words reflect a recognizable set of dogmatic archetypes. Smith has always been smart about religion, and Red State is no different. In fact, it is one of the best films about the fallacies inside faith ever created. For every moral good the Five Point congregation believe in, Smith shows how wrongheaded and wasteful it is.

Though it's labeled as "horror," the only thing truly terrifying about Red State is how current and prescient it is. On screen are the discussions going on in every radical facet of our contemporary planet, from actual terrorists planning their next series of suicide bombings to Tea Partiers trying to return the nation to its Declaration of Independence roots. He's not out to spook or shock you. Instead, the ideas are supposed to disturb you to the point of absolute dread. It's weird, when you think about it. While his output has been criticized as of late, films like Clerks 2 and Zack and Miri Make a Porno prove that Kevin Smith is still a solid outside filmmaker. Even if he never reaches a real commercial zenith, he's got his back catalog to support his legacy…and Red State is a one of his best.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.