“Red State” is like a confused, angry chimpanzee that attacks random people after you lovingly made fart jokes with it for years.
When I was younger, my mom or grandparents would take my brothers and me to the local video store and allow us to rent basically whatever we wanted. We weren’t extremely wealthy so our choices were restricted to the old releases at 5 for $5. In one of the most influential trips, completely unaware of the connection, we brought back “Clerks” and “Mallrats.” From that moment forward, I was a fan of Kevin Smith. It almost bordered on obsession for a while. I’ve seen all of his movies, except for “Cop Out,” but I don’t quite count it because he just directed. I traveled to Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank and bought the t-shirt Brodie wears in “Mallrats.” Hell, I even bought a copy of “Now You Know” because Jeff Anderson(Randal from “Clerks”) wrote and directed it. It should also be noted that if my grandfather was the one to take us we were basically required to get horror movies. On Fridays, we would buy Little Caesar’s pizza and then he would pay money to which one of us could stay awake the latest.
So, when I heard Kevin Smith was working on a horror movie, I immediately got to work on building a time machine so I could travel back and screen it for the 15-year-old version of me. Unfortunately, 15-year-old me was busy watching Kevin Smith movies instead of studying physics, so I didn’t get very far. (Sorry about that.)
Travis(Michael Angarano)is jaded when it comes to life in the small town. He doesn’t even seem to care when he sees members the Five Points Church protesting the funeral of a gay teen who was killed in an apparent hate crime. If there is one thing on the planet that can motivate any male teen, it’s sex, and when Travis is approached by his friends Billy-Ray(Nicholas Braun) and Randy(Ronnie Connell) to meet up with an online sex partner, he’s up(heh) for it.
The teens set out for a simple night of triple teaming a random lady. Boys will be boys, you know? After having a few beers, the guys kinda pass out for a while and wake up a little closer to the Five Points Church than they’d like to be. By “a little closer,” I mean tied up in the basement and shit. There’s a lesson to learned here. If you meet up with someone online, and one of the first things they say to you is, “The devil’s right in here,” run. Run as fast as you can. Unless, of course, you’re into that kind of thing.
The acting for the entire cast is pretty solid. Michael Parks puts in a really great performance as the charismatic leader of the church. Managing to keep interest during the extra long sermon scene is particularly impressive. John Goodman also stands out as a torn ATF agent who doesn’t know if it’s better to follow orders or stand by his morals.
The tone and focus of “Red State” shifts about halfway through. It sets up like it’s going to be a modern horror where teens are tortured for their misdeeds, but it turns to more of a thriller once John Goodman’s ATF agent is introduced. This is where “Red State” begins to break apart. There just end up being too many characters and subplots that don’t get enough time spent with them. All together it’s like “Hostel” meets “The Devil’s Rejects” meets “The Negotiator” meets “The People Under the Stairs” with a tiny bit of “Chasing Amy” sprinkled in. “Amy’s Hostel Rejects Negotiating Under the Stairs?”
Kevin Smith’s touch on the movie can be found in the lengthy dialogue and the one random “Clerks” style title screen that tells you the time. Other than that it feels like a completely different director. The overall feel of “Red State” is gritty and brutal. It certainly doesn’t exist in the same world where James Van Der Beek and Jason Biggs make “Bluntman and Chronic” movies. I found it refreshing to see him take such a different approach(There’s something 15-year-old me wouldn’t have said, for sure.)
The feel, direction and acting performances are enough to make “Red State” worth seeing even if the plot falls apart a bit. You’ll need to Nap Before if you’re going to stay awake through the sermon scene and it’ll be worth it to see Kevin Pollack in a classic “Is That Kevin Pollack?” role.