Pickin’ the Carcass: RED STATE (2011)
PICKIN’ THE CARCASS: RED STATE (2011)
By Michael Arruda
Welcome to PICKIN’ THE CARCASS, that column where we catch up with recent horror releases missed the first time around. Sadly, most of the time, there’s a good reason these films were missed the first time around. They’re not very good.
However, today, good news! At long last, I’ve found a CARCASS morsel well worth the wait, and that morsel is RED STATE (2011), the action thriller by writer director Kevin Smith.
RED STATE tells its story in three parts. The first part follows three teenage boys (Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano, and Nicholas Braun) as they answer a sex ad from a woman who promises to have sex with them. This first segment is light and funny, and you almost get the feeling you’re being set up for a teen sex comedy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
That’s because the woman drugs the boys, which leads to the second segment of the film, and this is where the horror sets in. The boys awake to find themselves held hostage by an ultra-right wing church known as the Five Points Church. This church, supposedly so far to the right that even neo-Nazi groups distance themselves from them, is led by the charismatic but crazy Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). The boys witness Cooper and his congregation execute a gay man in the church. Up next are the teens themselves.
Following a tip from the local sheriff, armed ATF agents led by Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) surround the Five Points Church compound, which brings us to the third segment of the film, the armed confrontation between the ATF agents and the church members, who are sitting on an arsenal full of assault weapons.
Eventually, all hell breaks loose, and there is a massive shoot-out, which leads to a clever ending that for several moments will have you scratching your head wondering just what the hell is going on. I won’t give anything away, but I will say the ending to the movie is somehow both depressing and satisfying.
RED STATE was written and directed by Kevin Smith, an actor, writer, and director mostly known for his comedies. (ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008) and JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001), for example). RED STATE is not a comedy, and I almost thought it was going to be played for laughs considering Smith’s involvement. But it’s not funny, not in the least.
Far from it, RED STATE is a grim realistic tale that works because it is firmly rooted in truth. The points this movie makes reflect disturbing trends in our society that, like it or not, exist. And it’s scary because as outlandish and as exaggerated as things may seem, it’s still realistic. A church congregation executes a gay man while singing hymns? And this isn’t a black comedy? No. And the reason? Sadly, horrifically, I could see this happening. There are fringe groups out there that would do this.
RED STATE is scary without entering into any of the traditional horror movie tropes. There’s nothing supernatural going on here. The horror is in the people and what they do.
The movie enjoys a strong start. The three teen characters are all believable, and the three actors who play them do an excellent job bringing these kids to life. Kyle Gallner is especially memorable as the lead teen Jarod, and we saw him a few years back in THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT (2009).
The dialogue here by Smith is also excellent. It’s a hoot listening to these three guys, as they act and sound like real teens. It sets the stage for the realism which permeates the entire film.
The second part of the film, where the boys are held hostage in the church, is also powerful. The execution sequence is a riveting scene, and at this point, the sweaty palms meter was going full throttle.
The third act, where John Goodman’s Joseph Keenan leads an ATF raid against the compound is the least satisfying segment of the three, but it’s still very good. It’s less effective because a standard action shoot-out just doesn’t pack the same wallop as scenes of teens being held hostage by maniac church members.
RED STATE features an outstanding cast. In addition to Kyle Gallner’s fine performance as teen hostage Jarod, John Goodman also delivers a strong performance as ATF agent Joseph Keenan. Goodman plays things realistically. He’s not over the top, and as a result, he’s very believable.
Melissa Leo plays yet another crazy mother, this one a member of the Five Points Church. Leo, you might remember, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a crazy obsessed mother in THE FIGHTER (2010). Yeah, her role here is almost the same, but she’s so good at it! You just want to slap her!
And Michael Parks absolutely steals the show as the creep preacher Abin Cooper. The best part of his performance, and really, the whole movie, is that it’s not played over the top. Parks doesn’t play Cooper like some psycho in the movies. He plays him like a real preacher. I believed this guy, and this is what made it so scary.
One of the reasons the movie works so well is the excellent script by Kevin Smith. Not only does it tell a believable story, but it also takes some outlandish situations, dangles them in front of you, and makes you realize, you know what? This isn’t as outlandish as you think!
Smith also adds some stylish direction. The action scenes are well-handled, and the camerawork during some of the chase scenes where the teens try to escape from the church makes you feel like you’re running right alongside them.
The movie also manages to takes its time without seeming slow-paced. There are long sequences of dialogue, which somehow result in making things more unsettling and suspenseful. It’s like you’re listening to Cooper speaking, and he’s creeping you out, and he’s going on and on, and you just want to get away, and yet you can’t.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed RED STATE. As long as you’re not expecting a happy night at the movies, you’ll want to check out RED STATE.
It’s non-supernatural horror at its best.
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda
(NOTE: For a slightly different take on RED STATE, check out the 2011 review by L.L. Soares here)