Cult vs SWAT: ‘Red State’ Retrospective
Who Are the Bad Guys, Are There Any Good Guys?
With this year being the 25th anniversary of the Waco incident, it seems like an appropriate time to look at a film that was inspired by the events. That film is the 2011 action horror Red State, which was directed by Kevin Smith.
The film’s plot is divided into two halves. In the first half, a congregation led by Pastor Abin Cooper baits and abducts teenagers to the Five Point Trinity Church where Cooper hosts a sermon followed by an execution of the abductees for being ungodly. In the second half, authorities get word of the misdeeds of the church and send ATF agents to battle it out with the congregation.
Both parts of the film have different tones. The first half is a horror scenario as the teenagers are drugged and taken to the church where they have no clue as to why they’re there or what will happen to them. After a homosexual man is killed before the congregation, it becomes clear as to what will happen to the teens.
The second half is straight action. As mentioned before, the film gains inspiration from the Waco incident in 1993 and the second half of the film reflects this. The way the ATF agents are on standby outside the compound is similar to the Waco siege. Several gunfights in the film are also reminiscent of the Waco shootouts.
Jared, played by Kyle Gallner, is the central teen in the first half of the film. He has two friends who are killed under different circumstances. Being the sole survivor of the trio, the film does spend time focusing on him and his opinion about the congregation. Only out of sheer luck does a deputy of the local precinct, played by Matt L. Jones, comes by the compound which ends up sparing Jared’s life. Sheriff Wynan, played by Stephen Root, hears his deputy murdered by a member of the congregation on the patrol car’s radio and calls in the ATF.
The ATF is led by Agent Joseph Keenan, played by John Goodman, who attempts to quell the situation between his team and the compound, though things don't quite go as planned as both sides are trigger happy.
Pastor Abin Cooper, played by Michael Parks, is by far the most interesting and entertaining part of the film. He’s portrayed as a large ham with an over-the-top personality. Despite the film’s genre, he’s often comedic. This can be somewhat out of place as he acts out during serious moments. At one point he casually plays a piano and sings while his congregation chases one of the teens.
An obvious part of the film is the tone. The first half is the horror aspect that features the congregation as the antagonist. The second half inverts this to action and make the congregation seem like victims and the ATF are the antagonist. The problem is the congregation are still pretty unlikable for what they were doing beforehand, so it’s near impossible to sympathize with them. By the end of the film there are pretty much no likeable characters with the exception of Goodman’s character, and even that’s iffy.
Overall, recommending the film is difficult. It has an interesting concept, being a horror movie mixed with action. However, since the film is basically split into two different halves the two tones clash with one another. As mentioned the film attempts to make you sympathize with the antagonist, and the good guys are killing the congregation as a cover-up. This film isn’t really recommended as a horror film. Check it out if you’re willing to see a different type of action film with a slow beginning, but if you’re a fan of Kevin Smith you may get something more out of it.
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