RED STATE (18)
WRITER-DIRECTOR Kevin Smith (Clerks) abandons the raucous comedies which have made his name for this brutal and uncompromising thriller.
High school students Jarod (Kyle Gallner), Travis (Michael Angarano) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) discover a titillating website, where women advertise for sex.
They respond to the advert of an older woman in nearby Cooper's Dell and drive to her trailer, where Sara (Melissa Leo) invites the trio to share a couple of beers before they indulge in the sins of the flesh.
Jarod, Travis and Billy-Ray are unaware that their beers have been spiked and when they regain consciousness, they are bound and gagged, held at the mercy of Christian extremist preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) and his demented flock at Five Points Church.
The congregation, including Sara and her eldest daughter Cheyenne (Kerry Bische), believe that the only way to cleanse the world of carnal sin is to kill the homosexuals, sex-charged teenagers and other degenerates in the local community.
As Abin prepares to sacrifice Jarod, Travis and Billy-Ray, Federal Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) marshalls an assault team to breach the church compound's defences.
He is hampered by local lawman, Sheriff Wynan (Stephen Root), who has a dark secret that protects the preacher and his warped followers.
“If you kill an American for religious reasons, you're a terrorist,” rationalises Agent Keenan as he gives the order to shoot to kill.
Red State is a dramatic change of pace and direction for Smith, and for the opening 30 minutes, we're gripped by Jarod, Travis and Billy-Ray's ordeal.
Graphic violence punctuates the narrative, justifying the 18 certificate, and action sequences of the SWAT team storming the compound are well orchestrated.
No one is safe in Smith's uneven script and the writer-director shatters our expectations by killing one major cast member early on.
Parks is genuinely terrifying as the pastor, who tells his acolytes, “God doesn't love you lest you fear Him.”
Once the action shifts to Goodman's conflicted officer, tension dissipates and occasional flecks of humour feel at odds with uncomfortable echoes to the 1993 Waco siege.
The ending is almost as off-kilter as preacher Abin but as Agent Keenan tells his superiors, “People do the strangest things when they believe they are entitled, but they do even stranger things when they believe.”
Smith believes unerringly in his nightmarish vision, even though we don't always share his certainty.
STAR RATING: ***