Kevin Smith’s “Red State” – the tenth film in his directorial oeuvre and the ninth he wrote – takes place in the rural south and portrays a hate church in the vein of Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church that begins stockpiling weapons while kidnapping men to push an agenda of hate. The story begins with three high school boys traveling to meet a woman from an online dating site, only for her to drug and kidnap them for the church to execute as an example to fornicators. One of the men manages to temporarily escape, find the church’s weapons cache, and makes enough noise for a local Sheriff’s Deputy to hear, leading to the arrival of the ATF. Here Smith draws inspiration from the FBI’s siege of Waco in 1993, showing how the ATF spins the situation in order to storm the compound.
The work represents Smith’s first foray into horror and he handles it well, relying on camera movement and angles to create a claustrophobic environment in the church compound, especially during chase scenes. He handles his portrayal of zealots particularly well, examining dissention within their ranks as well as the inner turmoil they feel amid their religious indoctrination. While this was timely at the time of the film’s release in 2011, it has aged unexpectedly well in the current political climate, given the rise of right-wing extremism. Michael Parks gives an excellent performance as Pastor Abin Cooper while John Goodman turns in the expected great work as ATF Special Agent Joseph Keenan. Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano, and Nicholas Braun do a good job as the church’s victims, enabling the audience to feel their terror. The film also includes Kevin Pollak as ATF Special Agent Brooks, Kevin Alejandro as Tactical Agent Harry, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith as Esther, and an audio cameo from Kevin Smith.
Fans of Smith’s work will likely enjoy this more experimental work (and, if you’re watching his films in order of release, it makes a good palette-cleanser following “Cop Out”). Though made on a small (for Hollywood) budget of $4 million, he makes the money go a long way and doesn’t waste a single shot in telling his story.