Red State (2011) | 31 Days of Horror: Oct 21

by Jovial Jay

Y’all come back now, so we can kill you.

Red State is a Kevin Smith film that is as intensely stressful as his others are funny. It provides a surprising amount of depth, considering the obvious parallels to real-world events.

Before Viewing

If you don’t already know what this film is about, the trailer does not help. Kevin Smith introduces the film and assures audiences it’s not a comedy like his other films. There are shots of people protesting, running, hiding, shooting guns, screaming, all while a preacher sings a hymn. It ends with this pastor saying that he fears God. Coupled with the title, Red State, it is a little bit intriguing.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

Red State

Red State title card.

After Viewing

The film introduces Travis (Michael Angarano) who drives past a protest of a local funeral by the Five Points Trinity Church. Their mission is to protest funerals of gay people and promote their narrow view of morality. Travis and his two friends Jarod (Kyle Gallner) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) decide to drive out Cooper’s Dell, the locality of the Church, to hook up with a prostitute they found online. On their way to the rendezvous they sideswipe a parked car, which ends up belonging to the local Sheriff (Stephen Root), who is having sex in his car with another man.

When the boys arrive at the trailer, Sara (Melissa Leo) plies them with roofie-tainted beer causing them to pass out. Jarod awakens, bound by tape, in his underwear, and confined to a dog crate covered in a tarp. Outside a small church service is being led by the Pastor of Five Points, Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), who is also the patriarch of the group of worshipers (which includes Sara) as well. He blames homosexuals for all of America’s problems. He leads the men in his flock in executing a gay man strapped to their crucifix.

Abin dumps the body through a trap door in the floor, where Billy Ray and Travis are bound. Jarod is then pulled out of the crate and strapped to the crucifix as the next sacrifice. Travis figures out a way to free themselves, and Billy Ray takes off, finding a storeroom of automatic assault rifles. He is shot by Caleb (Ralph Garman) but manages to kill the cultist. Travis pretends to be dead under Billy Ray’s body so he can escape. Elsewhere, ATF Agent Joe Keenan (John Goodman) takes a call from his superiors about a potential situation at the Church compound.

Red State

Travis breaks free of his bonds and contemplates shooting all the church members before he makes his escape.

Fearing for his life, Travis grabs a gun but realizes he can’t save Jarod, so he runs through the compound finally finding a way outside–where is promptly shot in the head. Sheriff Wynan apologizes to the ATF for killing someone, but Keenan orders him to stand down. As Keenan and ATF Agent Brooks (Kevin Pollak) discuss the next step to take, Church members open fire killing Brooks. ATF superiors order Keenan to execute everyone at the compound as it is a domestic terrorist cell.

Sara’s daughter Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé) realizes that the police will kill every last one of them and moves the children into the attic. She then frees Jarod at gunpoint and convinces him to help her, as he will probably die otherwise. They present themselves to Keenan, Jarod claiming he was a hostage, but another ATF Agent, following orders, kills them both on sight. Several other church members and ATF officers are killed (including the sheriff) in the shootout between the groups. Suddenly a loud booming trumpet is heard across the dell and the church members put down their guns and surrender believing it is the Rapture.

Keenan faces an inquiry later on failing to obey a direct order. He asks his superiors about Abin, who they claim they can keep in prison without trial indefinitely, due to the Patriot Act. Keenan explains that a local Compost Collective that moved in next door was playing a prank on Cooper and his followers by playing the trumpet sounds. It was all coincidental timing. His bosses have no problem violating the civil rights of a scumbag like Abin. Joe seems to slowly realize that he may not be cut out for this work any more. The film ends with Abin in prison, singing a hymn, until an off-screen prisoner tells him to shut up!

People just do the strangest things when they believe they’re entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe.” – Agent Joe Keenan

Red State

ATF Agents Brooks and Keenan discuss the best tactics to take with this bunch of wierdos.

Kevin Smith’s Red State is a huge departure for the director. Known for his comedies, such as Clerks and Mallrats, his decision to depart from that formula surprised many. Unlike John Landis, who brought some of his comedic elements to his first horror film An American Werewolf in London, there is very little levity in Smith’s film. This is also a different type of horror film than most. Rather than monsters or supernatural killers, this is set in the realm of real horror. It’s about the horror of man’s inhumanity against man. The film’s premise takes ideas straight out of the newspaper and postulates a worst case scenario about what might happen.

The sides seem obvious at the beginning of the movie. The audience follows the boys capture by the Five Points Church, an obvious riff on the real-life Westboro Baptist Church, but more militant. Things seem dire for them, and it’s assumed that not all three will make it, but Travis seems like a likely bet as the survivor. But when he’s the second one killed, and by a stray shot from the police, this is where things turn. Suddenly Keenan is thrust into the spotlight as the Agent that must implement his unseen boss’s orders: kill everyone and leave no witnesses. Joe struggles with this command for reasons which include the same one that Cheyenne points out, there are children inside. Joe sees his world in shades of gray. The fact that children may exist in the compound is reason enough to take things methodically. However his bosses at the ATF are more like the Five Points members than it may initially seem. Both groups have black and white ideals of the world. Abin and his flock believe that they follow an angry God, and that homosexuality is the evil that is destroying America. The ATF has the freedom under the Patriot Act of 2001 to remove threats to the country in morally questionable, yet politically easier ways. Joe is caught in the middle.

Red State

Cheyenne holds Jarod at gun point in order to get his assistance.

The title Red State, is obviously a nod to the idea of Red and Blue states in American elections, where Red States tend to lean more conservative and Republican. The location of the film is not spelled out specifically, probably in order to prevent alienating or upsetting anyone. Though it can be presumed to be somewhere in the South due to Keenan’s mention of Fred Phelps “up there in Kansas.” While hopefully no one watching this film condones the actions of the Church, Smith’s politics and passions are completely on his sleeve throughout the film. It’s quite obvious how the filmmaker feels about the characters in the Church (and churches like them). His wry sense of humor is on display with the prank making the church members believe that the Rapture is coming. Using the group’s own beliefs against them, which in this case actually ended up saving lives, as Keenan admits, is a poetic end to confrontation that was bound to end in greater tragedy.

The first half of the film seems to hold the horror in check, but much of that tension dissipates with the loss of what are perceived to be the main characters and when the ATF arrives. The story then becomes about a standoff between right-wing terrorists and the government. Even at 10 years old, the politics of Red State seem fresh and raw. Not everyone watching this film will agree with the ideas that Smith espouses. But hopefully the tension and horridness on display will resonate with many.

Red State

Believing it is the Rapture, Abin doubles down on his rhetoric towards the ATF agents.

Assorted Musings

  • Red State contains two cast members from Breaking Bad, Anna Gunn (Skylar White) as Travis’s mom, and Matt Jones (Badger) as Deputy Pete.
  • First of Smith’s horror films which also include Tusk and Yoga Hosers, and the future Moose Jaws.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Accept Privacy Policy