Red State breaks all the rules of filmmaking but not to its detriment. Sandy George explains why it's a must-see.
25 Jun 2014 - 10:58 AM  UPDATED 29 Jun 2016 - 4:01 PM

It’s adventurous and unpredictable

I’m conscientious generally and no matter how many times I’ve seen a film, I always rewatch it before presenting it on SBS. Red State is one of the few films I had not already seen. “How could I have missed this?” I kept asking myself. “How could this adventurous, unpredictable, unique film by a well-known director have got under my radar?”

The cult element

Doesn’t everyone find religious and other cults fascinating? Remember back to or look up what happened in the 1993 Waco siege involving Branch Davidians living in Texas and you are in the terrain covered by Red State in a story sense.

Breaking the rules I

In moviemaking there’s considerable pressure to abide by the rules and one of the ways Red State doesn’t is by not sticking to just one genre. At the beginning I thought: “Oh no, it’s one of those puerile pictures for teenage boys.” It’s not, but it is impossible to define exactly what it is. Sometimes it feels like writer/director/editor Kevin Smith (Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) is making horror, at other times action, at other times comedy. The result is unsettling but intriguingly so.

Breaking the rules II

Another way Red State gives the finger to the rules is by not introducing the leading man, Special Agent Joseph Keenan, until more than half an hour in. It is a bold creative decision. John Goodman, a regular in Joel and Ethan Coen’s films, plays Kennan. (Is it really more than 15 years since Roseanne was axed?) The actor’s humorous shtick is evident, but his character also has a lot of complexity. And wow, so does Pastor Abin Cooper, the religious nutter who dominates the early scenes. Michael Park, a regular in Quentin Tarantino’s films, gives a chilling portrait of Cooper, in part because of his astounding monologues.

Women in the classroom

It is a small thing, but at the very beginning of the film there are some scenes set in a classroom. The teacher’s style, demeanour and genuine enthusiasm makes you wish you could repeat school. She says of Abin Cooper, “the ultraconservatives avoid this guy,” and says she hopes the Cooper clan stick to the first amendment of the US constitution and stay far, far away from the second amendment.

Women with AK47s

It makes a pleasant change to see women using AK47s with great gusto. Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, who just happens to be married to the director, and Melissa Leo, who won an Oscar for The Fighter, play two of the trigger-happy women.

The finale

The ending is another example of how the film continually changes gear. It turns into pure satire – and plays directly into my cynicism about the way some governments use terrorism as an excuse for scaremongering. Others will read it differently. But my final reaction to the film was: “No! I’m loving this film: don’t let it end yet!

Red State is available at SBS On Demand below: