“Red Road”: A Stunning Debut Feature Crafted under Unexpected Circumstances

Kate Dickie as Jackie in “Red Road”, 2006.

Red Road is Andrea Arnold’s first feature film and was created under unconventional circumstances. With three regarded, distinctive, and affecting short films under her belt, Andrea Arnold was selected by filmmakers of the Dogma-95 movement to be one of the three directors in the “Advance Party.” This initiative/challenge gave three first-time-filmmakers the same actors, locations, a bit of character backstory, and the freedom to move with those select limitations when creating a feature film. As to be expected, Arnold’s was the most distinct and individual, producing iconic visuals (found previously in her work and moving forward), a strong sense of movement, and a POV of an individual outside of society, looking in — which has become her thematic staple. This psychological thriller is a true example of how one can produce a film that says, means, and elicits so much from so little.

The film follows Jackie Morrison, a CCTV security operator who watches live security footage around low incoming housing, dangerous neighborhoods, and areas of concern in her district, day and night. One evening, she sees a gentleman she hoped she would never see again… and from there, the fixation starts. She can’t unsee him in her mind, she has questions, some only he can answer and she needs to find him, see him, know that he’s real, and not an entity that lives only in her imagination. Memory is a funny thing and this film explores that, as well as reliving trauma, returning to curious, abusive individuals, and how we come to heal.

Tony Curran as Clyde in “Red Road”, 2006.

Andrea Arnold’s strength as a filmmaker is how she can give so much information, whether about the character, their economy, place in the world, etc, with such little imagery and dialogue. Her visuals are always clear, direct, precise, and cumulative. Her films create a strong sense of atmosphere because of this, producing a sort of liquidness where we drop into the protagonists world and are completely absorbed in it. Their observations become our observations. Their curiosities become our curiosities. Unlike most thrillers, we are never full of fabricated or expected suspense, mystery, and anticipation, no, watching Arnold’s films is like watching real life. But not in the neorealist sense like “Rome Open City”, “Bicycle Thieves”, or “The Florida Project”, but in the psychological sense: the calm chaos followed by the fear and anxiety that often strikes and populates our lives.

Red Road is a movie mosaic, one you have to piece together yourself, and grows darker and more curious as you go along. No character is going to tell you how they know the other, what they do for a living, or any other bit, large or small — this film is vacant of practically any exposition. It’s yours for the telling, a series of visuals made for your interpretation, but this is to be sure, you will feel the protagonists loneliness, separation from the world around her, harbored darkness, and longing to be a part of others’ worlds. A feeling many of us have been experiencing during our stay at home orders and social distancing in 2020, as well as 2021.

Kate Dickie as Jackie in “Red Road”, 2006.

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Nina's Film Notes

Nina's Film Notes

A fiercely femme retrospective survey of cinema for a new audience. Yeah, it’s good, but what’s the takeaway?

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