Great Britain, having built a comprehensive CCTV network, is under zillions of "eyes." Jackie (Kate Dickie) works at a CCTV center, her dull eyes flitting across dozens of screens, moving and zooming the camera as necessary. She watches over the dodgy Red Road area on the outskirts of Glasgow, looking for trouble amidst the bleak high-rises and wind-blown trash. Miscreants she's spotted generate a call to the cops.
In Red Road, a Scottish film now available on DVD, the CCTV network serves mostly as an entry into private lives -- that of Jackie, and the man she spots one afternoon on her monitors. She becomes obsessed with him, first on camera and then in the streets. She stalks him at his home, in Red Road, and then contrives to meet him. Jackie's motivations are unclear; she's nearly zombie-like, and out of place in the rough neighborhood.
In her spare but gripping drama, director and co-writer Andrea Arnold drips out information -- about Jackie; about the object of her fixation, the thuggishly charismatic Clyde (Tony Curran); and what, if any, connection the two might share. Ordinary events become charged; Jackie's motivations may be unclear but they're intense, even to the point of madness. And, this set-on-simmer psychological thriller eventually does boil over in a set of raw and shocking scenes.
The story of Red Road is ultimately personal, but like 1974's The Conversation, to which it owes some allegiance, the film suggests that the act of watching, particularly when abetted by fancy technology, is less passive than we assume, and may be as destructive to the viewer as to those under surveillance.
Arnold employs a naturalistic style, favoring location shooting and no score, and enjoys keeping us keyed to dread, even as little happens in the film's first half. This is Arnold's first feature, but she already has an Oscar, awarded in 2005 for her short "Wasp," also set in one of Britain's less glamorous urban milieus.
Red Road is the first film in an intriguing project whereby Arnold and two other filmmakers have signed on to make three features, all using the same characters (and actors), but with different storylines. This is a strong first entry, and I'll be keeping an eye out for the next two.