I wasn’t even going to bother reviewing Red State as Kevin Smith’s films always disappoint me (except for Clerks maybe), but after finally watching Red State this morning on Netflix I was just appalled. It is a fantasically bad movie mess. Is it a horror film? Is it a commentary on Fred Phelps? Is it a criticism of the ATF? Who the hell knows!
Kevin Smith went in so many directions you don’t who to follow as a character or if there’s even a plot. This is particularly disturbing since the material should be an easy target for horror–The Phelps Clan. Phelps, if you’ve had your head in the sand, runs GodHatesFags.com and other sites where basically God hates everything and everyone except for the Phelps family. Pastor Fred Phelps is a cartoon, so ridiculous that most conservative Christians distance themselves from him. Not that these conservative groups don’t still condemn “fags,” but they don’t like the idea that God condemns other sinners or the way Phelps runs his public relations.
Generally speaking, American Christians don’t like the idea of a god that hates even as you find many instances of it in the Bible. Theologians often try to redefine the hate into justice or the mysterious ways of God or that we, the sinners, deserve what we get (as apparently punishment is for eternity for a limited number of sins). Or frankly, “American theology” ignores the Bible altogether and defines God by modern standards (The Bible is a book of myths or fables).
I’m always amused by both Christians (like Pat Robertson) who know that God is punishing us on 9/11 or some other disaster and then Christians who say they know for sure that God is not punishing us. How the hell do any of you know the mind of God? In the Old Testament God swallows up sinners with a great flood and an earthquake and other little calamities. If he exists, why wouldn’t he continue to do so now? Oh, because of Jesus in the New Testament (as if the Old Testament stuff never happened)? I’m not sure why Jesus would make a difference except to save your supposed soul? The honest answer for someone who believes in God is to say: “I don’t know.” Otherwise, it’s the same old shit of Americanized Christianity redefining God as the current morals and ethics of our society.
So how does Kevin Smith miss the mark so badly in Red State? First of all, why call it Red State? Republicans don’t endorse figures like Abin Cooper, the Fred Phelps knockoff character. Yes, a large percentage of Red State Americans are homophobic, against gay marriage, but they don’t want to kill and torture gay people. If anything, they want homosexuals to kill themselves after taking away any rights and calling them “unnatural” (as if natural is always a good thing). Abin Cooper is outside of America–he is truly “not of this world.” The title alone seems like a mistake unless the commentary tied into the anti-gay marriage crowd some way and how the belittling of gays is a small part of the bigger horror.
Then what happened to the horror? And why would Abin Cooper’s middle-aged daughter be luring teenage boys into group sex in order to kill them? If the focus is on gay bigotry, why not have at least one of the boys be gay? Or at least a closet gay? I would have had the three boys captured for the sake of converting them to the church or maybe it was a scare tactic to get them on the straight and narrow road; then this closet gay is discovered and The Coopers decide he has to be killed. The rest of the film would be the horror surrounding our victim’s escape and whether or not his friends will turn on him or rescue him in an extreme situation. Instead we have The Coopers ready to execute three boys for wanting to have group sex with a female? I’m not saying that the Coopers wouldn’t condemn group sex, but what’s the point? If you’re going to target a representation of The Phelps Clan then keep on subject; make the horror about homosexuality and the reality of how the Bible instructs to kill gay people (How about a stoning scene? More horrific than shooting someone). Admittedly there is a long list of offenses in the “good” book for which to be executed for (see EvilBible.com’s list on murder in the Bible), but it’s an hour and a half movie–you can’t terrorize every sin, pick one and stick with it.
I am guessing that Kevin Smith chose three straight boys so there would be a larger audience that might identify with these main characters, only they are hardly main characters at all. They get picked off at random, two of them killed by the ATF. A horror movie with the lead being a terrorized gay may not have garnered enough interest? I don’t know, I think it could have worked with a gay lead if it was smartly written.
Then, literally, after no real horror with the three boys being tied up and a gay man saran-wrapped on a cross and shot (Hmm, obvious symbolism there. As if a religious zealot would tie his victim to a cross.) we get the ATF coming in who are more scary than The Coopers. They are there to kill everyone to make sure the government looks good and hide any possible screw-ups on behalf of an anxious sheriff who fired the first shot outside the compound and ended up killing one of the hostages. Oh, and yeah, that sheriff is a closet gay and is shot in the standoff too because he is such a coward (at least that’s the feeling I got).
In the end, The Coopers are tricked by environmentally sound pot growers into thinking the trumpets had sounded the lord’s return. And lastly we have a weird conversation between a disciplinary panel and John Goodman’s ATF character Special Agent Keenan. Some stupid story about his pet dogs that is supposed to enlighten us on the human condition.
I’m sorry, what a wasted opportunity to actually enlighten us or scare us. The Coopers represent The Phelps and The Phelps are representative of a dying type of Christianity in America where bigotry was in your face and hellfire breathed by the adherents. The bigotry of Christianity against supposed sinners is wrapped up in Christian love and bumpersticker slogans that say Jesus is Peace (even though he comes bringing a sword) and God is Love (yet there are passages that say God hates specific people or groups of people and love is shown by drowning all of humanity except Noah and his family). The new Christianity is not as honest as the old Christianity. The confusion may lie in picking and choosing the bits from the Bible that fit with a personal philosophy of love. The problem is the Bible is full of passages that contradict and confuse the reader if read as a whole.
Horror has regularly used religious zealots to terrorize us. Red State had that opportunity and failed. The only bright spot in the movie is Michael Parks’ performance as Abin Cooper. What a shame he didn’t have a decent script or directorial insight.