Red Road first published by Film4
Summary: The first part of a loose Glasgow-set trilogy, Andrea Arnold’s feature debut is a psychosexual thriller about loss, lust, and the red red road to redemption.
Review: Jackie (Kate Dickie) is a CCTV operator, watching remotely over a northern section of Glasgow, recording any trouble, and calling in the police when necessary. It is a job to which she is well suited, not only because of her acute powers of observation, but also because she is by temperament aloof and disengaged. She avoids all contact with the family of her late husband and daughter, and her only relationship to speak of is with a married colleague whom she meets fortnightly for loveless sex on the backseat of his car. She fakes her orgasm.
Then one night she recognises a man’s face on her monitor. It is Clyde (Tony Curran), recently let out early from prison, and now working as a locksmith. Jackie begins tracking Clyde’s movements obsessively on her bank of screens, and it is not long before she is emerging from her self-imposed cocoon, stalking Clyde on his own turf in and around the Red Road flats where he lives, and insinuating herself into his life. Clyde wants to know this mystery woman more intimately, but as he struggles to remember where he has seen her before, their briefly linked pasts are about to come crashing into the present. For Jackie has also been under a sentence, and is determined, one way or another, to find the release that she has long been craving.
Andrea Arnold’s Red Road is the first of a three-film Dano-Scottish experiment known collectively as the ‘Advance Party‘, where Dogme-style rules are imposed on Loachian naturalism. The initiative is the brainchild of Zentropa stalwarts Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen, who have profiled a core group of characters, but then left it to three new writer/directors to develop the characters’ relationships and dramas independently, each restricted to a six-week shoot using the same cast. The concept is not unlike Lucas Belvaux’s genre-bending Trilogy (2002), except that the setting is grim Glasgow rather than sunny Grenoble.
When Jackie first spots Clyde on her monitor, she thinks she is witnessing a rape – until, that is, she sees that the girl is eagerly kissing Clyde. This scene encapsulates the ambiguous, opaque world of Red Road, where events flicker across the screen without always being understood, where the border between attraction and repulsion, innocence and criminality, aggressor and victim are difficult to delineate with any precision, and where even the film’s title involves an equivocal play on words.
If the behaviour of ex-con Clyde is repeatedly subjected to easy prejudice and suspicion, especially when he is seen prowling around outside a girls’ school, then the conduct of his stalker seems just as questionable, as Jackie becomes increasingly unhinged in pursuing her quarry. All is made clear in the film’s final movement, with a redemptive dénouement that many viewers may find a tad sentimental, but it is a long, dark and twisted journey that takes us there, scrutinising the shadier contours of human loss and guilt like a grainy face on a screen.
Red Road combines the fixated voyeurism of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Fear X (2003) and Juliet McKoen’s Frozen (2005) with the disturbed eroticism of Carine Adler’s Under the Skin (1997) and Jane Campion’s In the Cut (2003) to create an edgy psychosexual mystery. Both Dickie (in her big-screen debut) and Curran (Miami Vice, Shallow Grave) invest their characters with a steamy menace, making their shared scenes thrill with a tension that is more than merely erotic – while Martin Belshaw’s soundtrack of industrial squeals and bass rumbles imports a note of foreboding to the film’s otherwise assiduously prosaic settings. This is an assured debut by any measure, and an attention-grabbing first assault by the Advance Party, whose subsequent films will no doubt bring into sharper focus many of the anonymous faces that Jackie has scanned on her bank of screens – each one concealing its own secret drama of dread and desire.
Verdict: This arresting mystery invites the viewer to see past the screen’s flat surface to the deep-seated grief and guilt beyond.
© Anton Bitel