“Establishment is flawed. Down with the establishment!” appears to be Kevin Smith‘s defining and sinister mantra in his Tarantino-esque Red State, done with brutal and twisted irony in a hail of righteous bullets. Its cynicism both cultivates and dissipates the bouts of humour in one of Smith’s most radical yet frank pieces of film-making yet that throws out a collection of controversial ideas.
Set in Middle America, three teenage boys receive an online invitation for sex with an older woman. But they soon encounter religious fundamentalists headed by disciplinarian Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) with a far more sinister agenda, as well as the law enforcement’s attempt at controlling their ideas.
Smith said audiences would ‘tremble in fear’. That’s not to say Red State is in anyway terrifying or differs from other shoot-em-up offerings. It’s the fear for mankind’s self-destructive mode that’s the greatest implied terror here, and the true horror of the whole affair. The idea that a set of beliefs or our own selfish desires can lead to events radically spiralling out of control is a weighty issue that Smith dwells on, and is highly topical in today’s terrorism-obsessed culture.
Red State is both a damning testament to those who fear God to the extreme, but also holds them a little in awe at their defiant nature in rejecting life’s temptations and societal rules. Smith doesn’t appear to come down in favour of either the believers’ or non-believers’ camp as such, showing the human flaws of all involved, and resulting in some chilling battle scenes where children are also expendable. The only pause for thought from all the ugliness comes with a presumed interjection from the Almighty that is both eerie and quietly amusing, but leaves both players and the audience utterly perplexed for a split second to allow the dust to settle.
Smith employs a wealth of talent in Parks, Melissa Leo and John Goodman, but the most striking performance is Parks as religious zealot Cooper who is hell-bent on exterminating life’s ‘diseased’ areas – pornography, homosexuality etc. You only have to listen to his gravely, menacing tones on the trailer to appreciate the impact Cooper has on the film’s tone and direction, and Parks’ charismatic but maniacal portrayal chills to the bone, more because of the reality of many Coopers nestled in the deepest, darkest recesses of the US of A and beyond.
Red State starts out like any horny coming-of-age flick full of hidden promise, but the end is nigh and comes too soon before any meaningful conclusions to be had – apart from the rebellious first line of this review. Cooper aside, who has some albeit perverse purpose, we are given very little scope to build any valuable empathy with the other characters, before they meet their maker. As cold-blooded as the killing is, this resonates with the soul of the film, often leaving you questioning Smith’s motives and character treatment altogether.
Unlike Tarantino’s iconic and colourful characters in his notorious crime sprees like Pulp Fiction, it’s best to take Smith’s rather alarming but watchable Red State as an inky-black satire of such God-fearing stand-offs, with the issues not the characters leaving the greater impression after the last bullet is spent.
**WATCH THE TRAILER HERE