Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Red State (2011): Kevin Smith’s Heavy-Handed Descent into Torture Porn and Politics

By Michael Jun 8, 2024

Red State is a 2011 horror thriller film written, directed, and edited by Kevin Smith. The film follows a group of three teenage boys who respond to an online ad for sex, only to find themselves abducted by a fundamentalist Christian cult in Middle America.

The plot centers around the members of the Five Points Trinity Church, an extreme right-wing Baptist Christian cult, who kidnap and sacrifice “sinners” as part of their religious beliefs.  When the three teenage boys are taken by the cult, a military task force is deployed to confront the fundamentalists in a guns-blazing standoff.

The film explores themes of religious extremism, the dangers of online interactions, and what the consequences could be of pursuing risky sexual adventures as well as our governments post 2001 responses to the same.

Review by Ben Dover:

The blunt force torture porn misfire that is Red State appears to be Kevin Smith’s heavy-handed descent into torture porn tedium, which is a sign that the once-celebrated slacker auteur has fully indulged his most adolescent impulses. This 2011 genre exercise is sloppy, uneven, and completely devoid of any kind of subtext or nuance. It plays out like a tiring endurance test with heavy-handedness and gratuitous violence.

Smith makes it clear right from the start that he wants to go backwards. The movie opens with a long scene in which two hormone-addled teens try to get sex with a supposed older woman online, only to fall into the hands of a crazy fundamentalist cult. It’s the sort of startling, incitement teasing arrangement that could make even the edgiest of Reddit savages become flushed with manly frailty.

Smith indulges in his ugliest, most puerile urges for nearly two hours as the cult, led by a sweaty, furious, overacting Michael Parks, terrorizes, tortures, and murders innocent people with sadistic glee. The skilled person entertainer twists his elements into an apparently long-lasting rictus of obsessive power, his rough denunciation and disdain filled castigations conveyed with all the nuance of a hammer to the skull.

The supporting characters are also no safe haven because a rotating assortment of disposable teen characters are routinely introduced with the sole purpose of enduring increasing levels of brutality and degradation. All of it is mean-spirited misery porn, a grotesque endurance test of gloom and despair that strangely lacks artistic merit or psychological insight.

Even the much-anticipated third act, in which a de-mustachioed John Goodman leads a paramilitary strike force against the depraved cult, does not elevate the situation above tawdry shock value. The subsequent bloodbath achieves a sort of parody farce that is completely at odds with Smith’s apparent intention because it is so aggressively heavy-handed in its unearned self-seriousness and gratuitous depictions of violence.

Without a doubt, Red State is that generally questionable of realistic monsters – a peculiar sway into creative insensibility taking on the appearance of tense, intrusive type incitement. It would appear that Kevin Smith wanted to write a harsh critique of religious extremism and zealotry, but his blunt creative instincts completely conceal any sense of nuance or subtext and ends up making the unseen government officials into worse characters than the religious crazies. It’s as insightful as a cinematic root canal, and it’s gratuitous torture porn titillation with a self-assured arthouse gloss.

Red State is a towering reminder of the dangers of creative self-indulgence that goes unchecked. Instead, what appears to be bold and uncompromising on the surface is nothing more than a bloated, miserable slog of sadistic misanthropy with no real purpose or substance. a missed opportunity from a vital artistic voice that is now floundering aimlessly in childish waters.

Critics Consensus:

Red State is an audacious and brash affair that ultimately fails to provide competent scares or thrills.
Critics 61% Audience 54%
  Rotten Tomatoes

Notes:

IMDB claims this as a horror film, however it really has no horror elements other than violence, it’s all gun violence and although it is Horrific, it does not fit into the horror genre. The horror is in the real life hatred and violence that people are capable of committing.

The cast is divided in three parts in the credits labeled “Sex”, “Religion” and “Politics”, representing the respective characters’ roles in the movie.

The budget for this was amazingly only 4 million dollars. One thing Kevin Smith can do is stretch a budget. Good thing as it only earned $1.87 million worldwide. It only played at five U.S. theaters in its widest release.

This movie is not a true story, even though it feels like it possibly is. The Five Points Church is loosely based on the real-life Topeka, Kansas church/cult Westboro Baptist Church. The villain Abin Cooper is a composite of Fred Phelps, Jim Jones, David Koresh and other leaders of religious cults. The events of the story are also quite similar to the Branch Davidian tragedy in Waco, Texas in 1993 as well as the government’s post 2001 responses to terrorism in any form, including domestically.

Kevin Smith’s first draft ending for Red State was to have the climactic shootout at the church end when the true apocalypse begins: Trumpet blasts herald from the sky which turns blood red and is filled with angels, one of which impales Pastor Cooper with a flaming sword. Given the film’s $5,000 special effects budget this ending was logistically impossible yet elements of it inspired the film’s ending and in true Kevin Smith fashion the lack of budget actually made for a better story.

Quotes:

ATF agent:  “I mean, Jesus saves and all but fuck people like this.”

ATF boss:  “What is this Sept 10, 2001?   (referring to terrorist rules and how to handle these guys.)

Joseph Keenan: “People just do the strangest things when they believe they’re entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe.”

High School Classroom Teacher: “Even the Nazis think this guy is nuckin’ futs.”

Trailer:

AI Images:

By Michael

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