Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Dark Trip Through a Red State

by Pa Rock
Film Fan

Last night as I was channel surfing on the lookout for something that would make me drowsy enough to go to bed, I landed on the Chiller Channel just as Kevin's Smith's soon-to-be cult classic, Red State, was beginning.  I had heard the movie referenced before, primarily in conversations about its writer and director, Kevin Smith, but had never had an opportunity to see it.

What a great film!

Red State is Smith's take on the rabid Christian fundamentalists of America's heartland, and, in particular, it takes aim at the infamous Phelps family of Topeka - the "God Hates Fags" folks who protest at funerals.  Director Smith, who has some obvious issues with religion, has not been this spot-on since his 1999 film, Dogma, in which he poked fun at the Catholic Church.

The Cooper family, the film's rough equivalent of the Phelps family, have a family compound and church in which the grandfather is the pastor.   His focus is on homosexuality, fornication, and general sin in America.  Like the Phelpses, the Coopers see the government as a big part of the problem - and they are distrustful of it and disdainful of the nation's flag.  Both groups, the Phelpses and the Coopers, protest at funerals and thrive on publicity, but whereas the Phelpses concentrate on carrying cameras to their events in the hopes of provoking attacks and then using their film in lawsuits, the Coopers hoard automatic weapons and drug and kill people.

But they are all good Christians.

Red State tells the story of three high school buddies who head out one night to have sex with a thirty-eight-year-old woman whom one of them came across on the internet.  There is some turmoil in the school they attend and in the community because a gay male high school student has recently been found murdered - wrapped in cellophane and dropped in a dumpster.  The Coopers, of course, showed up at the lad's funeral to protest.

The boys arrive at the woman's trailer, but before the sex stuff gets started she gives them each a beer - and the beer is spiked!  The boys wake up bound and imprisoned in the Cooper's church during a service.  They are to be some of the evening's sacrifices.

And then the local cops find out what is going on - through a fluke of circumstance, the FBI is notified and shows up, one of the captives is mistaken for a hostage by the local sheriff - and shot, there is a standoff, and someone up in the federal bureaucracy generates an order to kill everyone in the compound, even the kids.  So before  the movie reaches its conclusion, it touches on the Phelpses, Waco, Ruby Ridge, and Risky Business.

But it's still a damned good movie.

John Goodman plays the local FBI leader in this 2011 film.   One of the horny teen boys is Michael Angarano.   Angarano once played a character called John Macy in a film written by Tim Macy - so I feel somewhat paternal toward him.  It is Michael Parks, however, who holds the show together with his amazing portrayal of Abin Cooper, the grandfather-minister who keeps his flock of relatives together with fear-mongering and sadism.    I was reminded of Robert Duvall's great performance in the 1997 movie, The Apostle.

Independent director and film writer Kevin Smith is an American classic.  He has given us a substantial collection of strong and quirky films, many of which are connected to one another through characters, plot lines, and references.  Although I tuned in after the credits had run, I soon knew that this film was special - and was not surprised to learn that it was by Smith.  Red State has the feel of Kevin Smith in every scene - even without the presence of Jay and Silent Bob!  The  movie is a strong light shining into a very dark place.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of Moore's finest films in the past decade. Michael Parks shines just as he has in his recent works for Tarantino. Who would have ever guessed how far and a long would come Bronson! - Marty R