‘Red State’ (2011)

This stuff really happens

When Kevin Smith — the auteur behind talky raunch comedies from “Clerks” (so full of promise) to “Cop Out” (so not good) — announced he would make a horror film, to many of us, the conclusion seemed forgone: It would be torture porn with funny, raunchy dialogue.

How wrong we were. “Red State” is Smith’s best movie since “Clerks” — why, hellfire, it’s his best movie, period.

Calling “Red State” a horror film is a misnomer. Yes, it begins with a variation on that tired ’80s horror trope: teens who are punished for trying to score a little nookie. But the edge-of-your-seat tense “Red State” keeps switching gears, keeps surprising.

Michael Parks sermonizes as Abin Cooper in “Red State.”

As charismatic zealot Abin Cooper — a gay-hating preacher inspired in part by Fred PhelpsMichael Parks gives the performance of a lifetime. Just when you expect “Red State” to devolve into Rob Zombie-style torment, Smith stops the movie and introduces Abin via a spellbinding 12-minute sermon laced with charm, scripture, psycho-babble, humor, hate, warmth and intimidation. You can’t take your eyes off of Parks as he methodically prowls his altar like the devil himself.

Melissa Leo as a true believer.

The casting and performances are uniformly excellent: Melissa Leo as Abin’s washed-out, fanatically devoted daughter; John Goodman as a stressed-out AFT agent; Stephen Root as a self-loathing, alcoholic, closeted sheriff; Kerry Bishe as a lamb among wolves; Ralph Garman and Parks’ son, James Parks, as Abin operatives; “Breaking Bad” alum Matt L. Jones as a sluggish deputy; Kevin Pollak as Goodman’s snarky wingman.

Smith’s longtime cinematographer, David Klein, has a career breakthrough with omniscient camerawork that is at times kinetic.

John Goodman takes aim as a stressed-out AFT agent.

The plot has two gaffes in logic. One in the setup concerns the willingness of three male high school buddies to take part in a foursome with one woman. I just don’t buy it. Another concerns an ill-timed request for sweet tea. Again, I don’t buy it.

But these gaffes are forgivable. The story leads to a Waco-style standoff and a coda that, again, takes you by surprise.

Smith’s “Red State” is scary as hell — not because of gore, not because of manipulative “suspense” sequences, but because you know damn well that this stuff really happens in the world we inhabit.