Like her American counterpart Lodge Kerrigan, Andrea Arnold is a cinematic stalker, stealthily following her tormented characters as they search for absolution in an urban sprawl, building tension until it’s too much to bear. Ironically, Red Road begins not on the city streets which make up most of it’s locale, but with a dynamic camera set-up in a closed room overwhelmed by computer monitors. Jackie (Kate Dickie) works as a CCTV operator, sitting alone watching the many cameras perched above Glasgow’s roughest districts. It’s Rear Window for the digital age as Jackie scans image after image, following citizens as they walk dogs, window shop, all with the ominous pretense that she’ll witness something awful. Jackie seems to be yearning over a past trauma, and one night she sees a ghostly face on the monitor that awakens horrible memories of the past. This event jettisons Jackie from the dark room of voyeurism to the widescreen panoramas of action.
Arnold doesn’t turn Red Road into a standard revenge thriller, but something altogether more disturbing and somber. As Jackie stalks the man responsible for her mysterious trauma, she gradually unleashes a plan so ill-conceived and overly dangerous it makes the film’s subtle plot points all the more suspenseful. Arnold often frames Jackie against the stunning high rises that give the film its title, a lone figure amongst an ocean of poverty and loneliness. If the film drags out too long, it’s because Arnold has a desire to push the audience toward understanding the methods and complexities of both lead characters, seeing them as flip sides of the same traumatic coin. The situation itself becomes the focus, and Arnold masterfully captures the numbing cold of both character and environment as her hand held camera bobs and weaves through the dank Scottish night. Red Road might not fully deliver on it’s brilliant opening act, but it does showcase a dynamic filmmaking talent willing to follow her characters into the depths of hell, and bring them back again fully realized.