In Red State, Kevin Smith chose to visually create a harsh look by using high contrast. This emphasized the eerie nature of the film, and is usually common in horror films. In addition, many of the shots took place in very constricting places, such as in the cage underground at the front of the church in which Travis (Michael Angarano) was trapped in.
Furthermore, the film had no traditional score. While a captivating and suspenseful score can enhance a film, Red State’s omission of this worked, by creating a sense of absence; it left the audience to interpret the events happening onscreen without music to persuade or direct them toward a certain emotion. All that could be heard were the numerous gunshots, the heavy breathing of the characters as they’re placed in deeper and deeper danger, and the strongly delivered dialogue.
The mise en scene of the film, culminating the elements mentioned above and more, worked to reflect the events of the film, and visually convey emotion. When the 3 initial characters, Travis, Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun), and Randy (Ronnie Connell), meet with the woman, Sarah (Melissa Leo), the creepy atmosphere is firmly established with the dark and up close shots of the tiny trailer they enter. There is a foreshadowing that something terrible is about to happen. When the three boys are being carried to the church in cages, the audience surreally sees the streaks of light, seeing only what the boys see, feeling the uncertainty, the regret and the raw fear for what was about to happen.
The film aims to tackle many issues, and tries to reveal the reality of extremism in the institutions of both religion and government. However, it doesn’t necessarily spell out to the audience what should be right and wrong, it instead attempts to balance the viewpoints shown. A principal method the film uses to do this is switching its protagonist often. While we start out thinking that the three boys will be followed throughout the film, and it appears that the film will be their journey after making the wrong decision and how they’ll get out of the grip of the religious extremist Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). However, once one of the boys dies, it seems to follow only one of the boys, Travis as he tries to get out once his friends dies. Then, for a few moments, we shift to feel somewhat sympathetic toward Sarah, and we even see parts where we get an insight into the views of Abin Cooper, thorugh his sermon.
Finally, we are introduced to Officer Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), who brings in an entirely different viewpoint as a cop trying to do right in a complex situation. Eventually it ends on him, and his choices battling whether to follow a harsh order or do what he knows to be right. This jumping around, though some may say makes the film inconsistent, transitions smoothly to give all sides to the events. In the end, it humanizes all the characters and provides for a well-told story.