Several years ago, I heard a radio interview with Shirley Roper-Phelps, the daughter of the infamous Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church (you know, those crazy bastards that protest the funerals of gay men and soldiers). Initially, I tuned in thinking I'd get a good laugh listening to this hillbilly spawn of a fire and brimstone charlatan. I was not prepared for the fact that Roper-Phelps is an attorney, extremely well spoken, and very well versed in the bible as well as the law. I also was not prepared for the sick feeling I got in the pit of my gut as I listened to her conversation go from civil, to over-the-top -old testament-hatred that spewed like black bile from her. What was even more disconcerting was that Phelps spoke so passionately about her beliefs that she left me feeling queasy and in need of a dose of some sunshine and, maybe, a long shower to wash her hateful vibe off of me.
That's kind of the same way I felt after watching Kevin Smith's, Red State.
Smith has always been something of a curio. On the one hand, he's capable of some truly thought provoking issues in his work (see Dogma and Chasing Amy for proof), but more often than not, he seems to cave to the fan boy base that worships at his throne and litters even his best work with scatological humor, tit jokes, and man / boys who can't or won't grow up. With Red State, Smith has thrown out most of his crutches and crafted one of the most intelligent, and disturbing films I've seen in a long time.
What starts like a run of the mill horror film (three horny teens in search of sex find themselves in the middle of nowhere and are kidnapped) morphs into a story about the evils of small minded people and their religious beliefs as well as big government and its blood thirsty, vengeance seeking, cold heart.
Echoing everything from the Ruby Ridge confrontation, to the aforementioned Westboro Baptist church, to the paranoia spawned in the nation since 9/11, Red State assaults the viewer like nothing he or she has ever seen before. Make no mistake, this is a horror movie, but it's about realistic horror borne of homophobia, religious zeal and governmental heavy-handedness.
Michael Parks gives an Oscar worthy performance as Abin Cooper, the head of the Five Points Church where the deed goes down. Parks plays his villain with such charisma and charm it is uncanny. If this guy does not walk away with a gold statute next spring, The Academy should just pack it in.
Equally impressive is John Goodman as ATF agent, Joseph Keenan. Goodman puts in a terrific performance as a decent man asked to do the unthinkable.
Finally, then, there is not much more to say about Red State, other than to seek it out as soon as you can. Surely this film is going to alienate as many people who embrace it. Smith's fan base might really be in for a shock when they see what their idol is capable of when he is unfettered and not giving the people what they want (or expect). The rest of us will just sit back, mouth agape, and probably want to take a shower after it's all over.