By Scott Martin
Red State, USA, 2011
Written and Directed by Kevin Smith
Maybe the most interesting thing about Red State has little to do with the film that we watch, but the reaction it incites in critics. Upon its debut, it seemed that nobody could figure out what the film was supposed to be – horror, action, comedy, good, bad, watchable. Writer-director Kevin Smith obviously knew what he was doing, but it’s almost like he refused to let anyone in on the joke. Oddly enough, though, it worked.
This is a film about sex, Adult Friend Finder, Christian extremism, the Westboro Baptist Church, the overuse of violence by our American government, terrorism, torture, and some more fun stuff. Smith has said that the purpose of this film was to make his audience uncomfortable, like “when they go to sit in a chair, then I turn the chair over and they sit on one of the legs, and then we repeat the process”. That’s the essence of unpredictability, sure, but even a comedic director like Smith understands what horror movies are mostly about: obsession.
The story centers around three teenage boys who decide to take a stupid road trip to go have sex until they’re kidnapped and tortured by psychos. If you’re thinking, “Oh, great, because that totally doesn’t sound like every horror movie made in the last ten years,” let me keep going before you judge it. The film opens with a church protesting a gay teenager’s funeral (sound familiar?), then proceeds to introduce our characters and give a bit of a political message as to what exactly is happening. We understand that there’s a local church that’s a bit nuts, but what we don’t know is that … well, let’s just say that if Al Qaeda were twenty white folks in a farmhouse … Our young boys are kidnapped, and the rest is cinematic history.
Before too long, there’s an interesting gunfight between the FBI, a bunch of terrorists, the kids, and then, after all hell has broken loose, the world is just about to end … Kevin Smith’s Red State is a film of unfinished sentences, non sequiturs, and ellipses. It’s like you watch someone fill up a balloon with nitroglycerin, and throw it at someone, but you don’t get to witness what happens next. It’s explained, however. Don’t get me wrong; the last scene of this film has some of the best writing and acting of the year.
I try not to get too personal with my beliefs in my work, but I feel like I should state something here: I’m not ashamed of my Christian faith. Have never been, and never will be. What I am ashamed of, however, is that people like this exist in our world. The Westboro Baptist Church is an obvious inspiration for the fundamentalist group in the film, and there are government officials who do abuse their powers like those on display here, as well. This is a remarkably realistic film for something to preposterous and off-putting. Kudos to Kevin.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com