Travis (Michael Angarano) is a high school student who is warned in one of his classes about a Christian fundamentalist group called the Five Points Church. They're a group of radicals led by a pastor named Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). They are said to be so extreme that the Neo- Nazi's have separated themselves from them. The Church is seen on television because they are protesting outside the funeral of a homosexual teenager who was found murdered. Travis and his two friends are planning to have sex with an older woman that they've found on the Internet. They meet the woman at her trailer park and her name is Sara (Melissa Leo). She drugs them and takes them to the Five Points Church. Travis is left in a cage and the others are either locked in a hole or bound and gagged. The boys attempt to escape leads to a standoff between the Church and the SWAT rescue team outside. One of the cops is Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), who has been investigating the Church's vast gun ownership.
Red State is meant to be one of Kevin Smith's last films as a director. The man responsible for such indie films as Clerks (1994) and Chasing Amy (1997) is calling it quits. This is following apparent onset disputes and verbally attacking film critics for the reception of his buddy movie Cop Out (2010). After seeing Red State you'll wish that the big guy had turned the lights out earlier. The film is a mess. It's reflective of Smith's scattershot anger towards just about everyone. It is also schizophrenic in both genre and perspective. The setup is initially intriguing and intense because we're curious to see what trap the boys are being led into. Yet the alarm bells are sounded as soon as they're caught because the film looks to descend into another awful torture porn film. The drab, grey corridors and hand-held camera are reminiscent of the very worst of this subgenre, Hostel (2005). This is most likely what earned the approval of Quentin Tarantino, incidentally a producer on Hostel, who declared that he loves this film. But he's a movie buff though and there are few, if any movies, he dislikes. Michael Parks also happens to have appeared in numerous Tarantino-related films too. During an overlong sermon where Cooper condemns homosexuals, two people in the audience walked out. They left at the right time because this is where the violence begins and where the film loses its footing.
We realise that Smith is only interested in painting in broad strokes and working to the nth degree, rather than establishing the humanity of these fundamentalists. Is there a point to this then? His message is that some groups will fight at all costs to get what they want, forgetting that they're not dissimilar. That is a very broad concept to try and satirise, a well-known one too and he never pulls it off. He tries to flip the script on us by introducing the SWAT teams as the baddies. They shoot first and think later and suddenly Sara's daughter briefly becomes the main protagonist because she just wants to protect the children in the house. While this thankfully takes us out of the realm of torture porn, it is only to introduce a series of overly violent and tiring gunfights. As figures from all sides are gruesomely plugged off, we're left in a state of emotional limbo because Smith has done little to earn our sympathy with any of these sketchily drawn characters. The experience of Leo and Goodman isn't even enough because uncharacteristically, they're both way over the top here and not particularly interesting. Though some might take pleasure in the shootouts and moments of tension, the satire is thinly stretched in a film that merely postures as being politically intrigued. It is essentially an excuse for Smith to give all aspects of American society the middle finger. Don't give him the satisfaction.
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