#ICYMI: Red State

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Kevin Smith has a lot of die-hard fans. People love his films like Clerks and Chasing Amy, and frankly Dogma is probably the best religious comedy in existence. But having said that, there are probably even more people who are die-hard fans of hating Kevin Smith. People love to rag on the guy, and I suppose he has released some films deserving of that too.  This film though? This is something special.

The aforementioned die-hard fans may be disappointed when they find, instead of your regular Kevin Smith characters, a sharp drop in screen time dedicated to dick jokes. And the people who avoid Kevin Smith films like the plague are just going to straight up miss out. Darkly humorous and poignant Red State is, in this humble reviewer’s opinion the best work Smith has ever done.

It’s a simple premise. What if the Westboro Baptist Church took their bigotry and intolerance to the next level? What if they started killing in their name of their religion? If that thought doesn’t send chills down your spine I don’t know what will. Ok so it’s not actually the WBC, but it might as well be. We’re in Middle America where an average town is burdened with tolerating a local church known for picketing the funerals of homosexuals and fornicators, crying damnation and condemning those whom they consider to be sinners.

Enter Travis, Billy-Ray and Randy (Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and Ronnie Connell respectively). They’re high school buddies in their late teens; three typical horny teenagers who answer an online ad from a woman looking to have some fun with multiple partners.  Unfortunately for them, they’re about to be drugged, bound and kidnapped before they can even get their pants off.

It’s at this point that we’re introduced to the Five Points Trinity Church led by Abin Cooper – a most terrifying Michael Parks in a career defining performance.  Not only is Abin Cooper the head of the church, he is also a father, father in law or grandfather to all assembled. Immediately we are treated to a harrowing sermon, which is both as long and as memorable as any monologue Tarantino has ever written – an achievement in itself. To drive home his point Abin has the children removed from the church before executing a local homosexual man to the pleasure of his followers. Our adolescent heroes now realise what is in store for them.

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Hint: It’s not good.

This is a film in three parts, and while for this first part we have been following Randy through his experience, we are soon introduced to ATF agent Joseph Keenan as played by John Goodman who has been enjoying somewhat of a career renaissance recently. This is another win for Goodman, whose dry humour shines as another highlight of this film. For the final act we get a glimpse into the life of one of the younger church members.

I don’t want to give much more away as this film really is expertly written, directed, paced and played out by all involved, but needless to say this movie will keep you guessing, will never resort to doing what you expect and is brilliant because of it.

Human nature, religious zealotry and idiotic bureaucracy all combine in the end to keep you on the edge of your seat while teeming with frustration. A feat that serves to point out to you just how invested you’ve become in this story. I really can’t recommend this movie enough and once you’re done with the almost perfect final scene I’m sure you’ll be making sure everyone you know has heard about Red State as well.

Abin Cooper (Michael Cooper) and Joseph Keenan (John Goodman)

Red State Trivia

The Westboro Baptist Church planned to protest Red State at its premier at the Sundance Film Festival. Kevin Smith in turn planned a counter protest which he and his fans took part in. At the premiere the counter-protesters heavily outweighed the handful of Westboro protesters who showed up.

After a screening of the film in Kansas City, Kevin Smith interviewed two life long Westboro Baptist Church members (Shirley Phelps niece and son) who had defected a few years prior. They both enjoyed the film and even complimented Smith on how realistic certain aspects of religious fanaticism are depicted.

Speaking of Tarantino; Kevin Smith wrote the role of Abin Cooper for Michael Parks after seeing his performance in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Smith has said that if Parks had not agreed to be in the film, he would have dropped the project entirely.

The whole film was shot in sequence.

(Trivia via IMDB.com)

Film & TV Editor at XXIV Magazine, lover of all things film, music and comics. I have opinions and I'm going to tell you about 'em.

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