Red State, more thriller than horror, is a film inspired by those nonsense sprouting, humanity hating people of the Westboro Baptist Church as well the as current terrorism policy. Three teenage boys peruse the internet looking for local women to have sex with but discover that their chosen woman isn’t all that she said she was online. The boys find themselves locked inside a church with hate preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) talking about the end of days. He puts humanity’s demise down to homosexuality and has the bought the boys to his church to help free the world of sexual deviancy. Unfortunately for Cooper, a routine police patrol drives past his compound and discovers a car wanted in connection with a road traffic accident. When the police officer hears shots from inside the church he calls for backup and soon an ATF team lead by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) is on the scene.
I’m generally in favour of any movie which highlights the evil of organised religion. Whether through subtle satire or full blown exploratory investigation, if religion is getting a kicking then I’m on board. What Red State does though is make both sides the bad guys. The despicable, murdering in the name of Jesus loons obviously get a hard time from the film makers but so do the Government Agents bought in to take them down.
The movie is shot in an exciting and fast paced manner with cameras often seemingly strapped to actors when running around. There is some fast cutting which is interspersed with longer, quieter scenes and this works well to build anticipation and dread before all out action. The film is violent but not unnecessarily so given the subject matter and plot. I was a little bit surprised by the reaction of the ATF guys who arrive to defuse the volatile situation that has arisen though. Without wanting to give away spoilers, their orders seem on the harsh side, even for people who are as fundamentally deserving as the church members. Speaking of the church, the pastor and church is obviously based on Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist dicks but the film makes a very conscious effort to make it clear that these characters aren’t them. I assume this was done to avoid the possibility of being sued but it ends up in a piece of dialogue which doesn’t fit. There is also far too much exposition in the early part of the film.
Michael Parks delivers a fine performance as the charismatic and calm cult leader, pitching it somewhere between total belief and insanity. Melissa Leo also makes for a well cast congregation member. The sex seeking boys are ok but don’t stand out amongst the hate, blood and bullets and John Goodman is on top form. Red State is an odd film. I liked what it had to say about religious nut jobs and it was and interesting idea but I’m not sure I enjoyed the execution. There’s no denying that it looks good, especially for a film produced on such a low budget, but it feels like it loses its way. In the end I’m not sure what the film is trying to do. Is it anti religion, anti Government, both? The message gets muddled in the carnage that surrounds the second act and once the bullets start flying, I lost interest. Red State is a film worth watching and it might well speak to you if you have impassioned beliefs but for me it was a bit like a long, loud argument that two neighbours were having over a brick wall. There’s a lot being said but you can’t discern what it is.