Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Red State: Shooting Its Way To The Rapture And Beyond

Some people say Kevin Smith's latest film is not horror.  I can somewhat see their point.  But I also see an awful lot of horrifying things within Red State as well.  To speak frankly, I guess I first have to express my overwhelming despair that there are people in this world that are closed-minded and self-righteous enough to actually act just like the bible-thumping assholes shown in this movie.  The film makes its point quite disturbingly, ravaging the screen with painful homophobic barbs and rampant gunfire - yet we are captivated and cannot look away, even as it disgusts us.

I have, just as any free American does, the right to speak freely and the right to religion.  I can make semi-knowledgeable statements about religion validly because I grew up with it all around me.  My grandfather was a Methodist minister for over thirty five years. He left a cushy management position with an electric company back in 1970 because he truly believed he had a calling.  I'm not saying he "spoke" to God or anything of the sort, I'm simply saying the man felt an uncontrollable compulsion to quit his 22-year old job and become a minister.  He was the fairest, most decent man I've ever known, with hope in his heart and love for everyone he met.  He never looked down on anyone, never judged anyone, and made friends where ever he went. People respected him, as he respected others.  If you weren't religious, that never meant he couldn't like you, nor that the pearly gates weren't opened for your kind.
So it's fairly safe to say there is no way in hell he would have condemned anyone for their beliefs or their manner of living.  Hence, I was raised in a similar fashion.  Yes, over the years I have become a jaded, cynical, sarcastic bitch - but at my core I am fair and unprejudiced.
Red State had me feeling just about as dirty and contaminated by hatred as I've ever felt. 

The film starts with local teen Travis (Michael Angarano, otherwise known as Kristen Stewart's Ex) and his mother driving past a demonstration by the Five Points Church in Randomtown, USA. Church members are protesting the funeral of a gay teen who was murdered.  Can someone explain to me why people feel compelled to do this?

Soon after, Travis and two of his horny friends, Jared (Kyle Gallner, who always seems to get killed in horror films) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun, and yes seriously - Billy Ray),  have set up a rendezvous with a woman one of them has met on the internet.  On the way to the woman's residence, they accidentally sideswipe Sheriff Wynan's (Stephen Root, a.k.a. True Blood's Eddie the gay vampire) car.  They quickly speed off without realizing the sheriff has been up to some clandestine business of his own.  When two male heads pop up from the seat, we learn the married sheriff has some volatile secrets.  Sweating nervously, he heads off to the station and sends his deputy out to locate the car that bumped bumpers with his.

Meanwhile, the boys arrive at the internet date's trailer and there is a promise of sex for all three of them - possibly at the same time.  Sarah (the incomparable Melissa Leo) hastily hands them off some beer and within moments they are falling down drunk.  Well, falling down drugged is more like it. 

Jared groggily wakes up and quickly realizes he is trapped in a cage at the Five Points Church.  The cage is covered by a blanket but he is able to listen as Pastor Abin Cooper (the outstanding and Oscar-worthy Michael Parks) delivers a hellfire and brimstone sermon condemning blatant sexuality and a sinful life, with an extra heaping dose of hatred for the homosexual lifestyle. It is soon apparent that they have not only kidnapped Jared and probably his two friends, but they have abducted a gay man and have vile, murderous plans for him.  He's been nailed to a cross and wrapped in what looks like a year's worth of Saran Wrap.  As the congregation looks on dreamily while they chant the Lord's "good word", the hostage is shot dead. Bam!

Unnerving is probably as good a word as any for the way I felt at this point in the film.  I considered not watching the rest, actually, as I have no tolerance for gay-bashing bullies who take the words from the bible as well as our own legal system and twist them to suit their reprehensible agendas.  It is part of what makes me hate today's politics as well, but that's a whole other story.

But I left the movie run on.  After throwing the dead man's corpse into a trap-doored crawlspace where Jared's two friends are, they move on to Jared, stating that even though he's not gay he is a sexual deviant that found no issues with lying with a woman and two other men.  Just as they are going to execute Jared, the sheriff's deputy, Pete, arrives, thwarting their plans.

In the crawlspace below, Billy Ray manages to get free (perhaps he sang a verse or two of Achy Breaky Heart?) but cannot free Travis, so he leaves him for dead. (Some friend.)
While escaping, Billy Ray happens upon an entire room filled to the brim with guns - a virtual arsenal of firepower - and here's where we realize the Five Points Church is a little more Waco than Wacko, probably a whole lot of both. 

Eventually there is a standoff between Billy Ray and one of the Stepford goons, and as all this is going down, an ATF task force has gathered outside to take down the Heaven's Gate  Five Points congregation. 
Leading up the operation to take down the cult is Agent Joseph Keenan, played by a very non-Roseanne John Goodman.  I've always liked the guy, and it's no different here.  He's given orders by his higher ups to take down (in other words, exterminate) the entire compound so there isn't more than one story.  He clashes with another agent (Harry, played by True Blood's Kevin Alejandro) about just how to proceed with the raid and what to do with the lives inside.  There are many children in the house, and Harry has qualms about shooting them.  Likewise, inside the compound Jared has run into one of the older teens who is in the process of trying to help the children escape.  But stark confusion and alarming error soon overtake common sense and strategic technique.

Where the movie succeeds is in showing the ridiculous beliefs of the Five Points church, with all it's homophobiic judgements and bat-shit crazy ideals.  Parks is truly a revelation in the role of Abin Cooper.  (When he first started his demented speech to the congregation, I finally had to close my eyes.  I knew the voice, and well.  By god, it was Texas Ranger Earl McGraw from the film From Dusk Till Dawn and other Tarantino/Rodriguez flicks!  I had to smile.)  But make no mistake, he isn't here to make us smile or laugh in Red State.  He's here to piss us off.  Or at least he should.  With his moonstruck bunch of relatives making up the bulk of the church-goers, he teaches them hatred, disrespect, vulgarity, and prejudice.  And it shows. 

The last twenty minutes or so is an all-out circus of gunfire and retribution. Cooper's gun-crazy gang start believing that if they can't live the way they want to, maybe it's time to cash their tickets and take the ride up to heaven.  Assuming that God is on their side (because isn't that what all fucking stupid religious wackos think?), they feel they have a special link to the pearly gates.   The group of ATF agents and Cooper's congregation are temporarily stunned though, at the events of the last few moments of the film, as was I.  By the time I actually figured out what was going on, the credits were rolling.  Interesting, yet perplexing.  Somewhat humorous, even.

My question is, why do people like the Five Points Church exist? Because there sure seems to be a lot of them.  All the recent hub-bub about "The Rapture" and the world ending and hell coming to bite us in the ass just actually makes me giggle a little. I guess people don't realize how ridiculous it really is to think God is going to come down from his giant throne up in the clouds and touch each one of those obedient followers on the forehead with a shiny star-topped wand and save them because they read his book and took every word literally.  In fact, he's going to beam them up to heaven, ripping them right out of their Manolo Blahnik's and their Beemers while the rest of us doomed folks are grilling steaks in our backyards or jogging in the park.  Yeah, whatever.

I digress.  Or do I?  So what does Red State, in the end, tell us? It tells us that there will always be idiots out there who are prejudiced, insolent assholes.  And they will always try to berate and bully the minorities and people who are minding their own business.  And at times, they'll be carrying AK-47s.  But it doesn't get them to Heaven any more than any of the rest of us.  And if there truly is a God, they aren't gonna meet him any time soon.


Pax Romano said...

Great review. This was one of the best films of the year (IMHO). I have said over and over, had I not known that Smith directed this film, I'd have never guessed it. And yes, Parks deserves an Oscar.

What is so disturbing about this film is that it shows the real horror of the modern world...religious zealots, heavy handed government tactics...etc.

Christine Hadden said...

I agree Pax, that this film was all too disturbing and all too realistic. It's frightening that people can be so exactly opposite of what the Bible they so diligently "follow" tells them.
Blinded by hatred, self-worth, and stupidity, these people are the jackasses that keep me awake at night wondering what the hell the world has come to.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Strangest thing about churches like the ones depicted in the film is that they forget that the bible preaches that God hates those who love violence. So they are contradicting themselves right there!

I found this movie horrifying, but I dont consider it (or ever considered it) a horror film. It's scary in a real sort of way.

I recently wrote a review for this one as well, I loved it, in fact, I think it's one of Smith's best films to date.

Doug Brunell said...

I have actually stayed away from this film because I had read so many bad things about it and I doubted Smith's ability to pull it off ... and I like Smith. Reading your piece, however, has caused me to rethink my plan. I guess I will be watching this.

Jose said...

Great review, Christine. I just watched this one last night, and wooh boy, can I sympathize with your feelings of rage and despair. It's one of those films that hurts you when watching it because, deep down inside, you know it's only a few notches away from reality. Maybe not even that.

One of the really interesting things that I love that Smith employed was the moral dilemma that arose once the ATF team had to storm the house. They'll exterminate the few zealots, yes, but they'll also kill the children who might still have a chance at leading healthy lives. Is their sacrifice worth taking out a minority of misguided souls? Smith makes us question if the government's tactics are just as blind and bloody as the family's. Can't help but remind you of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, can it? And as loathsome as Cooper's actions were, doesn't he deserve the fair trial that we're all (supposedly) entitled to? There are two sides to every story, and Smith handled them wonderfully.

And, of course, Michael Parks FTW. That guy was living electrical energy on the screen.

Christine Hadden said...

TFC: Agreed. People who preach all this religion and yet do the exact opposite are hypocrites of the most colossal kind! And no, it doesn't really feel like a horror film at all. It feels like something that would keep me awake at night for all the wrong reasons.

Doug: You should give it a look. I wasn't sure I wanted to see it either, and nearly turned it off, but am glad I didn't. There are some powerful performances here.

Jose: Yes, You're right - the government was just as much to blame for being assholes as well. It's hard to watch this film because it just feels so real, like you could have seen the story on the six o'clock news.
Frighteningly real.

Kaijinu said...

Zealots scares me, but sadly, this film didn't do much justice. I mean yes, the zealots here are brutal and at the lame time a little unnerving, but that's it. I'm Catholic and all, but I'd seen more terrifying berating than that.

For the record, your grampa sounded like a good fellow.

B-Sol said...

Thanks for this review, Christine. I haven't seen the film yet, but I'm DYING to....