Red Road (2006) looked to me like a high concept thriller in the vein of Rear Window, Blow Up, and Blow Out — a mystery that unravels through a protagonist’s voyeuristic, half-understood observations of a situation from afar. But this one provides a powerful variation on that idea, and the result is an intense, slow-building suspenser that smartly spins its early intrigues into shocking revelations.
In Glasgow, Jackie (Katie Dickie) works for the city watching CCTV footage of the streets, remotely monitoring beats and reporting on signs of crime. Her lonely, subdued life is upset by the appearance of a man named Clyde (Tony Curran) on her screens. While it quickly becomes apparent that the unpleasant Clyde is an ex-convict with whom Jackie is familiar, it’s not entirely clear what he’s done or how she knows him. Jackie uses her surveillance vantage to dangerously insert herself into Clyde’s path, but with what motivation?
The film answers that question gradually and masterfully, escalating from subdued openings to ever more confrontational encounters later on, as layers of mystery are peeled back scene by scene. Not without dialogue, the film largely allows visuals to tell the story, filling knowledge gaps with wordless surveillance footage and distant, silent observation. As the viewer learns more and more about the situation, it grows more and more nerve-wracking, culminating in truly shocking scenes that finally reveal Jackie’s mission. In the end, neither of the main characters are exactly what they seem, in a resolution that neatly knots the threads. Katie Dickie’s performance is impressively fearless, and Tony Curran makes for an effective antagonist; in general, the acting is realistic and convincing.
Red Road, with its grimy urban setting and unpredictable characters, isn’t always easy to watch. It consistently thrusts its protagonist into ever more uncomfortable places, with unsettling suspense. But the difficult journey pays off with a beautiful ending that arrives like a sigh of relief. Powerful stuff.