Red Road (18.)
Directed Andrea Arnold.
Starring Kate Dickie, Tony Curran, Martin Compton, Natalie Press.118 minutes
Red Road may not be scary or thrilling but it certainly is tense. The lead character Jackie (Dickie) works tucked away in a small office monitoring footage from a section of surveillance cameras mounted around Glasgow and the world seems an ugly, menacing, alien place when seen through the cold still eyes of CCTV.
There’s something about watching her, watching them that accustoms the viewer to the possibility of something terrible happening at any time, so when Jackie leaves the safety of her office and walks out into those same streets everything she does, no matter how mundane, seems loaded with danger.
Red Road’s script attempts a difficult feat. It concentrates entirely on one character (Dickie is on screen throughout) while withholding her motivation and providing us with little or no explanation for her actions. All we know is that she is alone after some event in the past and that it involved a man called Clyde (Cullen) who she begins to follow after he appears on her screens after being released from prison early for good behaviour.
It’s framed as a puzzle, a kitchen sink Memento, though solving it doesn’t seem to be the point of the film. It’s a flaw in its structure that when the explanation finally arrives it almost seeps out and doesn’t have much of an impact.
Dickie is excellent, managing to be both believably ordinary and yet special enough to compel our attention for a full two hours and the film as a whole pulls off a similar balancing act. I can’t imagine it takes a cinematic genius to make Glasgow look threatening but first time director Andrea Arnold has a great eye for capturing the mundane terrors of city life. The Red Road of the title is an enormous, imposing, Soviet style tower block that exudes stark menace. There’s more than a hint of Lynne Ramsey (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar) about her work here.
I found this film’s slow burning style absolutely gripping. I can’t think of too many films that manage to sustain such a protracted air of tension, though I’ll concede others will probably find it as interesting as watching paint dry on CCTV.