A year after “Cop Out”, Smith returned to the big screen with a deliberately pared-down, low budget production, something very new for him and potentially very jarring for his fans – a deliberately nasty and bleak horror movie as Smith turns his thoughts to those whose faith takes their beliefs to dangerous extremes.
Amusingly, it starts out comfortably enough in Smith’s wheelhouse in the guise of an immature, foul-mouthed teen sex comedy as three horny young men respond to an internet listing offering group sex, right up until it takes that premise and veers off-road into a devout torture porn horror before escalating into a brutal siege movie.
It’s one of Smith’s most mature works and while the harder edge and darker tone prohibit his usual scatological, sophomoric sense of humour, the dialogue still snaps, crackles and pops thanks to the sharpness of the satire and the performances, especially from the veteran heavyweights of the cast.
Foremost amongst these is Michael Parks, who fully sinks his teeth into the meaty role of Abin Cooper, gleefully chewing through sinew and bone as the leader of the religious sect at the centre of the drama. He revels in every line of dialogue he has, imbuing it with fanatical darkness that transcends his homely Texan drawl. He’s mesmeric enough to carry a 13-minute polemic monologue as he sermonises to his captive but willing flock. Unlike most horror films in this genre, the teen victims at the heart of it aren’t the focus, they’re just grist to the mill of the tale of Cooper’s Five-Point Church and its nemesis, who makes his debut at the half-way point in the form of ATF Special Agent Joseph Keenan, played by John Goodman who likewise delivers a terrific performance.
Although they share practically no scenes together, the final act of the film becomes a battle of wills for control of the situation between Parks’ pastor and Goodman’s government agent, with the latter turning in a terrific performance as a good man caught between an irrational enemy and a command structure keen to just make the whole situation disappear.
The ending is brutal, bloody, dark and deeply cynical yet still retains Smith’s puckish pitch-black sense of humour and fondness for fantasy and absurdity. Although he wasn’t able to shoot the original ending that he wanted to due to budgetary constraints, arguably necessity was the mother of invention again and the ending presented is probably far superior. “Red State” marks the beginning of a new chapter for Smith, not just in the choice of genre or the sobriety of tone but as a filmmaker, confident in his own vision; confident enough to explore ways to avoid the compromises and accommodations which come with working in the conventional distribution models.