Red State had a lot of potential, I thought, but sadly, it failed on all accounts. The storyline was centred on this ultra-religious cult who got up to some, let’s say, questionable, activities. When I read this description, I was definitely interested in seeing the film, as I felt like it was something which had not really been explored before, despite many occasions of dangerous cults hitting the news worldwide. At the end of the day, this film works as something of a bizarre piece, being hard to define genre-wise, almost as if the director (Kevin Smith) could not make up his mind about what kind of film he wanted to make! I think it will appeal to those sorts of people who like their films to have a variety of ‘segments’, each of which is a different ‘flavour’. This first half of the film is dedicated to creating an uncomfortable atmosphere, mainly revolved around introducing the audience to the cult, whereas the second half is much more action-packed, with the arrival of the police. A face-off proceeds, with bullets flying in every direction, and the police have orders to kill everyone inside, meaning that only one side of this ‘battle’ can be left standing in the end. Even the ending seemed to go off at another tangent, with the very late introduction of some sort of government conspiracy/cover-up idea literally within the final scenes.
One of the biggest flaws of this film, for me, was the lack of character development all round. This is crucial in creating a bond with the audience and the people we are viewing on screen – if we can’t understand or relate to them, then we are not going to give a monkeys what happens to them! This is only too obviously illustrated in Red State, as characters seem to drop like flies, allowing no chance for the viewers to fully comprehend the situation, and once this starts happening, one learns not to even bother trying to get a handle on the characters because one knows that they won’t be long for this world. This is also where a lot of slasher films fall afoul, as they have a tendency to place too much emphasis on trying to ‘shock’ audiences with violence, leading to a failure in the basic principles of building up a group of core characters which can carry the film along adequately.
I thought that the long, drawn-out sequences of the pastor Abin Cooper (portrayed by Michael Parks) giving his speeches were a bit too much really, as they did take up a significant portion of the film – this literally being just one man talking for minutes at a time, almost as if we’re back at school doing a Shakespeare monologue. These were, quite frankly, dull to watch after the first few minutes, and I really failed to see the benefit of them being so long, apart from to highlight the intensity of what it’s like to be involved in a cult. Similarities have been drawn between Red State and The Devil’s Rejects (bizarrely) but this is mostly due to the fact that the Five Points Trinity Church in Red State is simply a ‘family’ of hateful people, and the same is true of the sadistic Firefly family of The Devil’s Rejects, the only difference being with the religious motivations (or lack of) behind their actions.
What I thought was interesting though, was the fact that this film used no background music whatsoever, it simply relied on dialogue and various sound effects, giving it a more realistic, even documentary-like feel to it. This was a very brave move on Kevin Smith’s part, and I must say, I praise him for taking this bold approach. It allows no escape from the visuals, meaning that the audience relies heavily on the storyline with no distractions and indications as to anything ‘sinister’ which is about to happen (as this is usually given away by the music!). The film does still manage to be unsettling without the aid of music, and that is all thanks to a subtle building up of the atmosphere, although, perhaps this is also due to the horrific nature of the idea of a cult in general, as they have famously destroyed many lives.
I was surprised to see John Goodman listed among the other cast members, as this was very much a sharp detour from his usual comic characters, and he didn’t even make an appearance till midway through the film! He played his role well, I’ll give him that, but the fact remains that the actual storyling was seriously in need of a touch-up. I personally think that the 2005 film Mouth to Mouth was a more accurate portrayal of how dangerous a cult can be, and how easy it is to get sucked into that environment, so I would recommend that one over Red State. But Red State makes for a much more horrific and violent watch, which might be more up your alley!