Conservative Cults And Crazies: A Review Of Red State

Most of you will remember Kevin Smith as the perpetual funnyman behind such films as Clerks, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and such characters as, well… Silent Bob. If you think that Red State is going to be a knee-slapper, you’re wrong. Kevin Smith’s independent horror film Red State manages to combine the best of recent horror films with a unique indie touch that’s done just right, mixed in with a dash of gritty action.

Red State (2011) - Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun

Kevin Smith’s Red State wastes no time in introducing us to the fast-paced dialogue that we’ve become so accustomed to in his films, along with dark humor that reads between the lines. Despite the fact that the film is set in the heart of middle America in a little town named Cooper’s Dell that reminds this reviewer of her home state of Kansas and the protagonists are scarcely more than bonafied rednecks, they’re still plugged into the online world; some of the purest examples of today’s technology-driven society.

Jarod (Kyle Gallner, A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot) announces to friends Travis (Michael Angarano, Lords of Dogtown) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun, Prom) that he knows a girl who’s willing to go all the way with all three of them. There’s a catch in that he’s met her over the Internet and she’s old enough to be their mothers; even perhaps in that neck of the woods, their grandmother. After the obligatory slinging of gay jokes, the kids decide that the promise of a little poontang is worth the risk, and Travis borrows his parents’ car.

Red State (2011) - Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun

They accidentally hit another car parked on the side of the road on the way into the boonies and decide to keep driving. Lo and behold, the driver is the local sherriff (Stephen Root, Office Space, King of the Hill) who was involved in a homosexual tryst at the time. Back at the sherriff’s department, the cinematography takes a turn toward the short and choppy as he tells an employee that he wants their car found. The sudden clippiness of the shots is something that manages to unexpectedly unsettle someone.

Red State (2011)

The boys reach their destination and are given a few beers by their trailer-dwelling date Sara (Academy Award winner Melissa Leo). The scene almost plays like something out of Porky‘s, if not for the unpleasant tone of the scene. It’s not soon afterward that our protagonists are revealed to have been slipped some serious Mickeys when they all pass out halfway into stripping out of their clothes.

The next scenes are of Jarod being wheeled into a church in a cage with a blanket over it. He yells to be set free, but is merely ignored as famed hate-fueled preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks, Kill Bill) lets loose on a truly unsettling and disjointed sermon about fear, beliefs, Satan, morals and… you guessed it, homosexuality. It’s clear from the start that the Five Points Church is based on the infamous real Westboro Baptist Church, but a glimpse into what might truly go on in one of these conservative cults is chilling and terrifying, even if it’s a little contrived at times.

Red State (2011)

The ante is upped when Sherriff Wynan makes contact via radio with the church and Abin threatens to expose his secret homosexuality to his wife. It’s then that Sherriff Wynan takes matters into his own hands and gets ATF agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman, O Brother Where Art Thou, Roseanne) involved.

Red State (2011)

The film at times borders on the sort of suspense that Hostel had, especially during the scenes when our protagonists are trying to escape from the sin-hating cult. In terms of theme, this movie really has it all if you’re looking for a semi-plausible situation. I myself prefer horror films like these, where you can easily imagine the baddies in the film because they’re human, and they could be the man down the street. It’s all too real considering that there are people like this that actually exist.

Red State is spine-chillingly extreme at times and hard to watch at others. Kevin Smith does a wonderful job in creating tension and mixing in a few laughs where he can without it seeming too forced. The film created a tight knot in the pit of my stomach that was hard to dissipate and it’s one of the first times recently that I can remember rooting for any law enforcement agents or agencies and actually wanting them to win. Kevin Smith has said that there were few redeeming characters in the film, and at times it’s hard to feel sympathy for any of the characters at all.

The cast in the film is nothing short of amazing and provide superb performances the whole way around. For me, Melissa Leo steals the show as Sarah Cooper, the fanatical daughter of Abin Cooper. The other knockout is Michael Parks, who made my skin crawl as Abin Cooper. His performance is one of the best that I’ve seen out of this year’s films and I sincerely hope that he’s nominated for a few awards for it, as unlikely as it may be. Another stand-out performer and something of an unknown is Kerry Bishé, who played Sarah Cooper’s daughter Cheyenne. She’s one to watch out for in the future if this performance is any indicator.

The Verdict: [rating:4]

This movie is a sure fire hit from Kevin Smith. It may not see wide releases and it may not garner a huge mainstream fan base, but I predict that it’s going to be a cult classic sooner than later — no pun intended. It’s everything that you could want in a twisted horror/thriller with only a few shortcomings that barely make a dent in the overall viewing experience.

Red State (2011) Poster Large
Yell! Rating (x/5 Skulls):
Year Released:
23 September 2011
Kevin Smith
Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, Michael Angarano, Deborah Aquila, Nicholas Braun, Ronnie Connell, Kaylee DeFer, Kyle Gallner, Anna Gunn, and John Goodman
Horror, Thriller
Official URL:

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