The movie starts off with three friends, who like most High School boys, are preoccupied with one thing: Scoring. But unlike American Pie, or other teen dramas/comedies that we’ve seen so far, they don’t do it by making a pact, or buying hookers, no! This is the 21st Century we’re talking about! So of course, they use an online dating site to try and find a person with loose morals to help them with their dirty little needs.
Once the boys learn of potential group sex with a woman he met online that happens to live nearby, they steal a car and head on their way.
Unfortunately, after that THINGS TURN VERY ADULT, and they find themselves right in the middle of a Fundamentalist cult religion lead by Reverend Abin Cooper and his small flock of sheep in a very rural area.
There are some laughs, though as Smith uses his characters to poke fun at the sign waving, funeral protesting members of the real-life Westboro Baptist Church. In the fictional world of Red State, Westboro is more of a satirical spin on the far-end of the spectrum (basing the church on the real-life churches of Westboro, as well as borrowing from the Waco Texas tragedies from the 90’s), with a “God Hates Fags” attitude that makes the movie more of a non-slasher horror flick that seems to defy genres and give a few of the brainwashed members more of a human side (as though they haven’t quite decided if they want to “drink the Kool-Aid” but would rather run for the hills when the proverbial shit hits the fan).
The film does jump genres as it will have parts that will make you laugh, as well as some action, and an unsettling bit of horror as you realize that this group doesn’t settle for just picketing and demonstrating, but will actually carry out what they consider God’s will in cleansing the world of the unrighteous.
There is a heavy bit of preaching thrown in to show just how convinced the members are that they are right in their beliefs and that the rest of the world needs to join them or face the consequences.
While most of the cast are actors that have not been in too many other films, Kevin Smith was able to pull in Michael Parks (Kill Bill, From Dusk To Dawn), Stephen Root (who played Milton in Office Space), John Goodman (from The Big Lebowski, Monster’s Inc., and Roseanne) as well as Kevin Pollack (Whole Nine Yards, The Usual Suspects). There are not going to be many familiar actors from the Askew-niverse in this flick, though you may recognize Jennifer Schwalbach Smith (Kevin’s Wife) and Ralph Garman (Sharktopus, Hollywood Babble-On, KROQ DJ) both playing members of the Cooper church.
While the tagline of the film is “Fear God,” Smith eloquently summed up the film in a different light during the Q&A after the screening: “Don’t fear God, fear His followers.”
This film was able to scare me more than most horror movies have that I’ve seen for the fact that it wasn’t an edge of the seat thriller, but it was more like an up and down rollercoaster ride, where you think the film is going one way right before it switches gears and goes another. I was able to get into this one more because you see that there isn’t a clearly-defined “monster” in the film, and it actually changes from one character to another once you see the other side of the curtain. There isn’t a high body count, unneeded explosions or extremely graphic depictions that you will see in an action movie, but there is a shootout and a chase. You also see the actors portraying different attitudes that seem to shift throughout the film, going one way and then the next, depending on the scene. There isn’t a clearly marked theme saying “this is the bad guy, this is the good guy,” at one part the church members are just following orders, and then a few of them will show they have a human side that isn’t completely insane and that they may have some second thoughts about the third-generation religion they belong to. There are even parts where you will feel bad for both the people inside and out of the group because of difficult decisions they have to make.
This film is highly recommended because it does discuss some theology like Smith’s earlier Dogma (while not going into comedic depth and analyzing parts of the Christian religion), this one seems to focus more on the religious nuts that are in the extreme ends of a widely practiced religion, and showing it in perhaps a different light. As Kevin said during the Q&A, the Westboro Baptist Church is a small group and don’t share the same values as most other branches of Christianity, but because they happen to be more vocal about their views than other churches, other parts of the world may assume that all Christians are that way, unfortunately the same thing happened with the Muslims during the terrorist attacks from the last few decades. Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but because most people only connect that faith with a group that is more vocal and extreme, that’s what people think all Muslims are like.
For those that aren’t able to catch the flick during its tour (or more specifically were not in attendance at tonight’s showing, Kevin himself has offered up a live bootleg snippet of the film, which shows the sermon that Cooper gives to his followers, late at night in their small church in Cooper’s Dell.