Kevin Smith is a director that I’ve defend as damn good if not always excellent. Movies like Clerks and Dogma are still original and entertaining, while Clerks 2 is a straight up classic in my book. That said I’ve kinda stepped back in recent years and avoided stuff like Cop Out and Red State which seemed to indicate a change in the once great film maker. Well it’s time to fix that! In celebration of the release of his latest film Tusk, I’m gonna take a look at his last movie Red State. It seems appropriate considering that both appear to be quite similar in tone and even has the same actor playing the bad guy in both films. Is this movie gonna be an auteur director proving himself outside of his comfort zone, or yet another step in his continued slide into irrelevance? Only one way to find out, and that’s to keep on reading!!
The movie begins with a kid being driven to school by his mother when they pass by the NOT Westboro Baptist Church doing their usual bullshit.
He gets to class late and explains to the teacher that he was held up by the jackasses protesting a funeral which gives the teacher an excuse to go on an expository diatribe about the Five Points Trinity Church, which is what the NOT Westboro folks are called.
The exposition here is pretty vague with no mention of what they actually claim to believe. It’s supposed to be the WBC, but for anyone who HASN’T heard of them, I can only imagine they would come off as way too ludicrous and one-dimensional. The only thing the movie has told us about them so far is that they hate gay people (like a lot of churches do) and that Nazi’s think they’re too extreme.
Our hero (Travis) along with his two friends (Jarod and Billy-Ray ) aren’t really paying attention because they have something else on their mind, namely pussy. It turns out that Travis’s friend Jarod has been chatting with some woman on one of those FuckBook sites and wants to meet the three of them later that night. The scenes of these three kids interacting and figuring out the logistics of having sex with this woman are uncomfortable and off-putting, but in a way that’s somewhat believable. It reminds me of movies bade by Larry Clark (director of Bully) and it shows that Kevin Smith is able to find that sweet spot where the teenagers seem realistic, but not so much that come across as bad actors. Despite almost all of his movies being broad comedies about goofy characters, he shows that he’s capable of going in basically the opposite direction which makes me think of what he’d do if handed something like this without the outlandish concept to detract from these kids’ everyday life.
On the way to the woman’s house, they clip a car that’s parked on the side of the road and bail before talking to the guy behind the wheel. I get the feeling the guy is actually not too upset about it considering what was happening in the car.
The kids arrive at the trailer and find that an actual woman is waiting for them. The body language on these kids when they talk to her is really great, because it shows the nervous excitement that they’re all feeling about taking that next step into manhood. These awkward dweebs have waited their whole lives for a moment like this, yet they have no idea how it’s going to turn out.
She invites them inside, promising them sex and alcohol upon entry, and the three of them rush in. We cut back to the guy whose car the kids hit arriving at his workplace and it turns out that he’s the town’s sheriff. He goes in and asks his deputy to look for the car that hit him (oh hey! That’s Badger from Breaking Bad as the deputy!), while he sits at his desk, drinks liquor, and cries while looking at a picture of his wife. Okay…
We cut back to the kids who are drinking their beers and trying to make small talk. After a while, they’re told to go into the next room and undress, which they gladly hop to. Once they start stripping however, they start to feel dizzy and collapse on the floor. Right before passing out, Jarod sees some men entering the trailer which can’t be good news. He wakes up hours later locked in a small cage with a blanket over it.
It turns out that the Five Points Trinity Church has kidnapped him and his friends and is planning to do something horrible to them. We see the leader of the church (Abin Cooper) who gives a long and chilling sermon to his congregation comprised entirely of his own family members. The actor here, Michael Parks, is really great in the role. He’s fantastic at playing this charismatic character that’s completely fucking psychotic. You listen to him talk and he’s always got a reasonable tone of voice, puts a little compassion into the way he speaks, and even throws in a bit of humor for good measure. If you listen to what he says though, he’s exactly the kind of person who you wish that if God was real, he’d stomp on this mother fucker for twisting his words into this vile garbage.
He’s not the only one you’ll wish would die before they hurt someone. His congregation is a bunch of sheep who’ve bought into this bullshit because it’s been fed to them their entire lives. You can’t help but feel sorry for these lost people, while at the same time terrified by how far they’re willing to go if given the right push. There’s also a bunch of kids there which only helps reinforce that this kind of shit gets into people young and there’s almost nothing we can do to stop it when it happens in real life.
Throughout the sermon, you can see a sheet covering something in front of the cross. Considering the fact that they’ve got a kid in a cage next to the pews, you can only image what’s under there. They wait until after the sermon to reveal what’s underneath, allowing your imagination to run wild which is actually quite effective. Once they do remove the sheet, it turns out to be a man they tricked with an online ad for gay sex that they have since wrapped in plastic sheeting and silenced with a ball gag. It’s clear that Abin plans to kill him because he sends all the kids outside the room.
It’s god damn chilling and infuriating to watch this happen. NO ONE has any sense of reason or compassion because they’re filled with righteousness. To them, the man’s desperate flailing and struggles are nothing but the worthless pleas of a man riddled with sin. They don’t hesitate in what they’re doing because they know it to be the right thing, and that’s one of the things I hate more than anything else in this world. Anyone with the right amount of conviction can convince themselves that whatever awful fucking thing they do is justified in the eyes of God, society, or their own sense of right and wrong. They wrap his head in plastic and shoot him from the top of his head, killing him instantly. At least they didn’t torture him beforehand. They open up the cellar door (which is right in front of the cross, and we see that Travis and Billy-Ray are being held down there. They toss the dead body inside and lock the door, ready to start on their next victim. Jarod tries to convince them that he isn’t gay so that they might spare him, but Abin doesn’t give two shits because he was planning on having a four way with his friends and the woman.
They start taping him up to the cross and the movie thankfully cuts to something else before they get much further. What we cut to isn’t THAT much better though because it’s Travis and Billy-Ray freaking out and trying to find a way to escape. Fortunately for them, the man who was thrown down there broke one of his bones and it’s poking out of the skin. Travis tries to cut through the plastic sheeting with the sharp piece of bone, and is also trying to keep Billy-Ray from completely losing it. At the same time, the deputy is knocking on the church gates and Abin goes out to turn him around. Travis is able to free Billy-Ray, but Billy-Ray bolts before Travis can cut through his own restraints. The church goers hear the commotion and one of them (with a gun) goes to investigate. Billy-Ray is desperately trying to find a way out and ends up in a room that is filled to the brim with weapons.
The deputy is successfully sweet talked away from the church (he was there because he saw the banged up car the kids were driving parked in the church parking lot) and is about to leave. As this is happening, Billy-Ray grabs a gun, shakily points at the door, and waits for the guy chasing him to burst in. The guy does in fact arrive, but Billy-Ray is too inexperienced and scared to fire, and takes a bullet to the head. As he’s falling, he squeezes the trigger and kills the Church goer. While it’s sad to see Billy-Ray go, the sound of gun fire reaches the deputy and he calls it in to the sheriff before getting a gut full of buckshot.
Badger may have died in the process but at least he was able to get the message to the cops who will descend on this place and fuck them up, right!? Not quite. After the deputy gets shot, Abin gets on the radio and tells the sheriff that he’s been watching him for a while now and has lots of incriminating photos of him having sex with a man. If the sheriff doesn’t want the pictures to get to his wife (and everyone else) he’ll keep quiet about what he heard. God damn it! I really REALLY hate this Abin fucker!!
THANKFULLY!! The Sheriff doesn’t fully comply. It seems that he’s planning to tell someone and then kill himself, but who exactly is he going to tell? His fellow officers? State Troopers? National Guard? Nope! John Goodman.
Um… Okay. After hearing Mr. Goodman talk on the phone a bit (something about the Church being suspected of gathering weapons which we ALREADLY KNOW!!), we cut back to the Church where the daughter of Abin (the woman who tricked the boys with promises of sex, as well as the wife of the man who got shot) discovers what has happened. We also find out that Travis has also been killed.
Seriously? We don’t even get to see what happened? He’s just dead and (for some reason) the body is put in the weapons room? Anyway, we cut back to Goodman who, I shit you not, spends the next five minutes giving exposition over the phone about the Church.
This completely breaks the flow of the movie and is really unnecessary. Do we need to know that they started stockpiling weapons after a small bomb went off somewhere close to their compound? NO! WE ALREADY KNOW THEY’RE FUCKING NUTS!!! We also find out that Goodman works for the ATF, and that the person on the other line is pushing for an immediate raid on the compound. John Goodman is hesitant however because of the ATF’s history of dealing with these situations. Okay, hold on. Are we expected to side with Goodman here? We KNOW these fuckers killing innocent people, so I doubt the movie wants us to do THAT! Then again, they not-so-subtly bring up Waco, which means… does Kevin Smith want us to think Waco was JUSTIFIED!?!? I don’t know. The whole scene just bugged me, so let’s move on. We cut back to the church basement where it turns out that Travis wasn’t actually dead, but just faking! Yay! That also explains how his body ended up in the gun room. He was waiting for an opportunity to go Rambo on their asses! He nervously (but determinedly) walks through the basement with an assault rifle, trying to find an escape route while also keeping an eye out for religious nut jobs. He eventually finds his way up to the main worship area where they’re having a funeral for the dead church guy.
Travis can see that Jarod is still alive (tied to the cross), but doesn’t have a plan on how to save him. He ends up making a run for it (apparently the only way he could go was straight through the main worship area), and the men in the congregation give chase. It’s an intense seen with close up camera shots as Travis tries desperately to find a way out. He never fires his gun at any of the men chasing him, but he’s young and scared so it didn’t really bother me. Travis eventually finds a way out and makes a run for freedom… before getting shot in the head by the ATF.
Actually, it wasn’t the ATF, but the Sheriff who was a bit too trigger happy and fired without authorization. Wait, wasn’t he going to kill himself? John Goodman (who’s there as well) loses his shit at the Sheriff and tries to salvage the situation. Okay, so we’re down to one person we care about and the ATF are getting portrayed as a bunch of bumbling idiots who will probably fuck this up.
I just. I don’t even know what the hell this movie IS now. The ATF order the Church members to come out, but instead they start open firing (killing at least one officer) and it devolves into a shootout. Okay, I’ll take it. It’s not really a horror film anymore, but fine. The problem is that the movie keeps stopping to show the ATF being shady, or to show that some ATF members think that what they’re doing to the compound is wrong. WHAT!?!?!?
Yeah! John Goodman gets orders from the SHADY government or whoever to KILL EVERYONE INSIDE!!! Women, children, hostages, gold fish, EVERYONE! Poor poor religious nuts. WHY must the ATF be so EVIL!? Sure they’re getting shot at, but why must THEY BE MORE EVIL THE HOMOSEXUAL KILLING CULTEST!? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TRYING TO DO HERE MR. SMITH!?!?!?
Oh my god the rest of this movie is so fucking unbearable. One of the cultist out of GOD DAMN NO WHERE decides that she’s gonna try to be the hero now and save all the little innocent children that the mean old government want to kill in cold blood. I’m sorry lady, but you’re too damn old and too damn late to pull the innocent victim card. You stood by (and probably helped) while your family killed people who had family, friends, and loved ones who are now living without the person they cared about because of your family’s actions. She almost gets shot by one of the agents, but is saved by her mother (the daughter of Abin I mentioned earlier) who yells at her for not picking up a gun and shooting at the government guys.
This random girl decides to free Jarod (oh yeah! He’s still alive…) and tries to get him to do… something? I guess the plan is that if both of them make a run for the ATF dudes, they can quickly explain their case and hopefully save the poor kiddies from the mean old government. WHY MUST THEY BE SO CRUEL!?!?!? Jarod is justifiably unwilling to deal with this person who helped kill his best friends, and gets up in her face about it. Her mother comes in, assumes they’re doing dirty things, and then starts wailing on Jared. The girl (no idea what her name is and I REALLY don’t care) gets the mother off of Jared and then they fight over the gun. It goes off, mother’s dead, and Jarod and the girl make a run for the ATF. While this is going on, we get more footage of really bad action between the ATF and the Church goers. Almost every shot is of church people with guns firing at targets we can’t see, and not knowing if they ever hit. These shots repeat over and over again, and it just bogs the movie down.
Jarod and the girl make it to John Goodman and try to explain what’s going on, but one of the ATF guys just shoots them. Almost immediately after that, this loud blaring sound permeates throughout the compound. The ATF guys can hear it, as well as the churchgoers inside.
Upon hearing this, Abin declares that they are the horns of the angels, and orders his congregation to file outside. Once outside, he starts preaching about end times, and the ATF guys are starting to freak out. They can’t explain what’s going on with the noise, and this guy is the only one giving an explanation. At that moment, the movie kind of won me back for doing something genuinely unnerving and creepy. Abin gets right into John Goodman’s face (without getting shot), and then the movie cuts. Yup, it’s some time later and Goodman is at a hearing, explaining what happened.
WHAT THE FUCK!?!?
Goodman explains that he arrested the remaining members of the church (they were unarmed) and that’s how it ended. It turns out that the horns were a practical joke played by some NEVER BEFORE SEEN neighbors who didn’t like the Church and decided that playing horns to get their hopes up would be good for a laugh. I’m dead fucking serious. The movie almost goes to a place that was completely unexpected (THE APOCALYPSE!!!) but instead says “nah… that didn’t happen.” It doesn’t just end there, oh no. The douche bags conducting the hearing (presumably the guys Goodman was talking to on the phone, but who knows) tell us that the Church goers will be in jail forever without getting a trial because FUCK YOU IT’S THE PATRIOT ACT!! That’s almost exactly what they say.
I see what you did there Mr. Smith. The government and homosexual murdering religious zealots? Same basic thing. No difference really when you get down to it! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!!!!! The movie ends with us seeing Abin in a prison cell singing to himself until another inmate tells him to shut the fuck up.
So that was Red State and HOLY FUCKING SHIT! I’ve rarely turned so hard on a movie before, but by god did this movie completely destroy itself in the second half. I don’t get the shift from the Church being the bad guys to the ATF being the bad guys. I know we’re still supposed to think that at least HALF of the Church are still bad guys, but they go to a ridiculous level to not only make sure the not-so evil church goers are as precious and innocent looking as possible, but the conspiracy theory bullshit about the ATF getting SECRET EVIL ORDERS from some SHADY GOVERNMENT GOONS is just stomach cunningly awful. They never even say what happened to the kids after the raid, so the sole motivation for giving the Church goers any slack (GOVERNMENT’S GONNA MURDER KIDS!!!) is completely dropped. Fuck this movie. There are parts of this where Kevin Smith shows us that he has talent, but the ass backwards way this film was put together shows us that he doesn’t give a shit about anyone watching it. He COULD have made this movie make sense if he wanted to. Hell as TWO SEPARATE MOVIES, I might have gone along with it, but trying to cram these two things together just makes the movie feel preachy in all the wrong ways. In a Q &A I saw, he said that writing the film was basically a dare. He would write a few pages, and then someone would dare him to throw in some other weird element. He also wanted to make sure that the movie would shift gears as often as possible to make sure audiences stayed confused. Well congratulations Mr. Smith, you did just that. I’m glad you had fun making this piece of garbage, but the fact that you convinced your fans to sit through it and consider it a REAL FILM is really fucking exploitative of the people who made you what you are today. If it’s not clear enough already, skip this piece of shit and go watch one of his movies back when he actually cared about his audience. Back when he was a real artist trying to say something, or at least trying to entertain. Until he gets his shit together (which judging by the reactions to Tusk seems pretty unlikely any time soon) I’m done with him. For what it’s worth, you are officially on my shit list Mr. Smith. Just hope I never get around to reviewing Cop Out, because I’ve got a feeling things will get worse between us after that!