Writer/director Smith has taken a major departure from his Clerks days, mixing his well known comedy with brutal violence and a touch of insanity. Set in small town America, Red State follows three teenage boys searching for sex in all the wrong places.
After accepting an on-line offer of the’ Devils’ business’ by a slightly more mature Sarah Palin the young fornicators find themselves imprisoned by an ultra-evangelical Christian congregation led by the Granddaddy of religious zealots Pastor Abin Cooper.
Michael Parks plays Abin with verve, swagger, menace and charisma and his unnerving portrayal is the stand out performance of the film, closely followed by Melissa Leo taking on the role of his indoctrinated and loyal daughter Sara.
All fire and brimstone, Abin and his family church believe the end is nigh and blames the rise of homosexuality and immoral flagrant sexuality. Doing what they judge to be God’s work, their religious gatherings include an unexpected adult only ceremony. That is until an innocuous showdown with the local deputy leads to a Waco style stand-off with the FBI.
Caught between the FBI and their captors the boys’ nightmare takes an unexpected turn. The Jerry Springer Opera type absurdity of the church service works well with the fear and frenzy felt by the confused youngsters.
John Goodman plays it brilliantly as deadpan Joseph Keenan, an FBI agent placed in an impossible situation during a fire fight with the occupants of Cooper’s holdout. The unconventional gun battle then culminates with a wonderfully inventive and celestial conclusion.
Red State is a clever film with some great lines, a touch of Tarantino and a heavy dose of social commentary. It’s an uneven piece of work, but this amusing and often shocking film is definitely worth a look.