In Middle America, three male teenage friends respond to one of many online invitations for sex, this one in their own district, and set off into the night. After a minor accident in the car, they arrive at a remote trailer expecting to have a foursome, but the advertiser has other plans. Drugged and bound, the three boys wake up in the clutches of an extreme evangelical sect, facing deadly danger. When the local policeman is sent to investigate the car accident, he stumbles into the clutches of the sect - and triggers a full scale war with the authorities.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Sex, religion and politics are interwoven as the social ingredients that Kevin Smith combines in this cinematic hand grenade at rampant moral selectivity in contempo American life.
With this film's cinema release in Australia coming just a week after Higher Ground opens, we could be forgiven for thinking that US indie filmmakers are coordinating a screen attack on strict evangelical communities in America, both films portraying these extreme examples of religious activism as mad, bad and dangerous.
But High Ground is based on a personal memoir and is smaller, narrower in scale. In Red State, Smith opens his attack across the social spectrum to take aim at the morally bankrupt security mindset as well as the deformed thinking and unforgivable actions of his evangelical killers. Although he doesn't connect the two, it's unavoidable to observe that there is the same reliance on god's wishes to rid the world of the evil 'other' as that which motivated extreme Islamic fundamentalists.
The role of sex is crucial in this scenario: first, Smith establishes the hatred that the evangelical extreme right feels for gays, and then moves on to develop the story about three teenage boys being lured to sex - and its horrific consequences.
The film is gripping and edgy, and all the performances are outstanding. Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and Ronnie Connell are the teenagers, and they deliver perfectly conceived characters. Stephen Root plays the hapless local sheriff, whose sexual indiscretion is another trigger that Smith pulls with ferocious accuracy.
Michael Parks is sensational as the creepy sect leader Abin Cooper, and Melissa Leo is terrifying as his equally creepy daughter, Sara, who played the bait in the internet sex lure scam.
John Goodman doesn't appear until half way into the film, but he's worth waiting for. Playing Federal Agent John Keenan, Goodman brings hell with him to stand against Cooper's god fearing haven, a walled compound with a basement full of weapons. What happens next is a meeting of the morally corrupt and the morally misguided - and the final deconstruction of the film's editorial line.
Smith has to be supple and inventive with this story, especially the ending, but he pulls it off with a bravado piece of imagination, albeit using a twist that has to be explained in dialogue. Still, it's something of a coup in story terms.
Review by Louise Keller:
Sex, religion and politics are the three subheadings in the closing credits of Kevin Smith's strident Red State, which pretty much describes the film's themes. Each of them is equally sordid, which is how I felt at the end of this ugly film that negates everything that is good, pure and beautiful. There's no question that Smith has made his mark on the film landscape over the years especially the earlier titles like Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Jay and Silent Bob. The more recent Zack and Miri make a Porno offered a rather endearing innocence through the film's crude and rude exterior, but Red State is unadulterated rampant ugliness illustrated by violence.
The first section of the film deals with three horny, out of control teenage boys, whose idea of a good time is to indulge in triplicate sex with a stranger from the internet. Melissa Leo plays the stranger, who meets the boys in a trailer in the remote area of Cooper's Dell and insists they drink a couple of beers before they drop their daks. The fact that they accidentally clip the edge of a parked car on their way to the illicit rendez-vous as they speed along the road is a blessing in disguise. Sitting in the front seat in a state of euphoria as his male companion sends him to oral sex heaven is the county's sheriff (Stephen Root), whose homosexuality is his dirty little secret. Homosexuality is the big issue of contention: we have already seen anti-gay demonstrations outside a funeral, and heard preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) sermonise how homosexuals are God's greatest enemies on earth.
The film's second section takes place in the preacher's church: this is no ordinary church but the meeting place of zealots and religious fanatics whose notions of good Christian values are perverse indeed. Brutality, cruelty and killing are the state of play here and there is nothing subtle about the way Smith makes his point. Finally, the politics come around the bend, headed by John Goodman's Federal Agent Joseph Keenan, who is indoctrinated to play by the rules, not his conscience. Having a moral compass is a hurdle, not an asset.
The performances are all disturbingly good, especially Parks as the perverted preacher whose fanaticism creeps seriously over the edge of sanity. But this is not enough to make a recommendation for this brutally frenetic film that makes its point with a sledgehammer although whatever the point Smith is trying to make - other than shock us - is not especially clear.
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RED STATE (MA15+)
CAST: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Deborah Aquila, Nicholas Braun, Ronnie Connell, Kaylee DeFer, Joey Figueroa, Kyle Gallner, Anna Gunn, Matt L. Jones, John Lacy
PRODUCER: Jonathan Gordon
DIRECTOR: Kevin Smith
SCRIPT: Kevin Smith
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Klein
EDITOR: Kevin Smith
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Cabot McMullen
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Curious Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 13, 2011
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.