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Red State -Sex, Religion and Politics

Red State (2011) -Written and Directed by Kevin Smith

As the credits roll at the end of Red State, the film is divided into 3 sections -“Sex,” “Religion” and “Politics.” Viewers should be warned that this film takes a rather dim view of all three, at least as they are practiced in the 21st Century.

Red State is a film that’s hard to categorize because it mixes genres in a way that is alternately confusing and thought provoking. It starts out with a typical Texas Chainsaw Massacre type setup, with a bunch of teenagers heading out to a remote rural location where mayhem inevitably waits.

Kevin Smith’s film, however, is not a simple slasher film. Far from it. It is also about religious fanaticism and government cover-ups. Ultimately, this leads to a movie that is not only hard to pigeonhole, but one where it’s hard to sympathize with anyone. The teenagers are the least loathsome of the lot. They are the usual dumb but basically harmless group -in this case, answering an internet ad for sex with an anonymous woman. This turns out to be a trap, however, as they end up being held prisoner at a compound run by right-wing Christian fanatics.

Red State references several actual people and movements. The religious group is clearly meant to evoke the Westboro Baptist Church, which is militantly anti-gay. This real group and its leader Fred Phelps is mentioned in the film to acknowledge this, though the group in the movie is even crazier.

Later, as federal agents surround the compound, we are reminded of Waco and the rather compelling conspiracy theories around that event (where the government killed everyone in the compound run by cult leader David Koresh). Still another reference that was thrown in was in the name of the reverend who runs the church -Cooper. William Cooper was an actual militia leader who was killed by the government in 2001. I suppose the name could have been chosen randomly by Kevin Smith, but I doubt it.

Red State does raise some legitimate issues about religion, cults and the abuse of government power. Michael Parks as Cooper does a good job at playing a fanatic who is both wild-eyed and soft spoken. His followers nod their heads mindlessly as he works them into a murderous rage. The scene where the teenagers are about to be killed for their attempted sins is an effective illustration of how blind fanaticism can lead to heinous actions.

The government is scarcely any better in its response. The local sheriff turns out to be a closet gay who is afraid to expose Cooper for fear that he will be outed. When the ATF gets involved, it becomes clear that the only thing that matters is that nothing unseemly is publicly reported -even if that means innocent people (including children) have to die. Sadly, recent history shows that all of this is completely plausible.

Red State is a violent, chaotic hybrid of a movie that is worth seeing if you approach it with an open mind and don’t expect it to follow a straight line.

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