In recent years we’ve witnessed a sharp increase in global monitoring and cyber security. From interception of mobile phone networks, to a recent wave of social media hacking , the world has never been more preoccupied with seeing and being seen, due largely to a growing threat from terrorism and Islamic lead fundamentalism. Just the other day, I read an article on how Russian cyber trolls are sabotaging British webcams to publish life feeds from homes and workplaces up and down the country.
This got me thinking- how closely is surveillance looked at in cinema? Well you have the obvious examples- cyber hacking in The Social Network, full blown NSA tracking in Enemy Of The State, but what about some of the more obscure references. And then I remembered Red Road: an independent British title I’d watched a couple of years back which offered a very inquisitive look at CCTV as a means to monitoring and detection. I decided to give it a re-watch.
Red Road is 21st century British Psycho- Drama film which follows the life and times of a CCTV Security Operator as she tracks a mysterious figure from her past who appears on screen one day. Set entirely in Glasgow, and borrowing its name from the towering Red Road flats in Barmulloch, it casts a birds-eye look at concrete wastelands from the perspective of CCTV. Behind the camera is Jackie (Kate Dickie), a muted introvert who lives life voyeuristically through others. With an almost godlike gaze over Glasgow’s streets, she spies out, sex, violence and misfortune from all angles and intercepts crime in real time. Taking small comfort from the characters and scenarios she observes, there is a strong sense in which Jackie is totally involved in, and yet completely at a distance to the life she leads. In truth, Jackie is a troubled and lonely soul: when she’s not having casual, empty sex with her sad excuse for a boyfriend, she’s peering into a empty glass in a pub. For her, video surveillance offers an illusionary escape from isolation and monotony.
On one of her many eagle gazes of Glasgow she spots Clyde (Tony Curran), who from initial observation, appears to be nothing more than a layabout and common thief. Yet bizarrely, Jackie develops a strange obsession over him. Overcome with a powerful determination to follow his every move, she makes him the central focal point of her monitoring- tracking him across multiple screens as he goes about his everyday life. Deciding that video surveillance isn’t sufficient enough, she then takes on foot to stalk Clyde, in what marks an important spilling over from the estranged world Jackie once looked at from a distance and the physical kind she is now interacting with. And as we learn, Clyde isn’t quite what he seems.
Anchored by some excellent dogma-style film making, Red Road combines natural light and handheld cameras to create a strong sense of realism, and for most part feels somewhat like a Docu-Drama. On its year of release it scooped multiple awards at the Baftas as well as a Cannes Jury Prize. For director, Andrea Arnold, it marks an important instalment in the creative ‘Advance Party’ series: a trilogy of films from various writers and Directors, all set in Scotland and using the same cast and characters.
Fans of Disturbia and golden oldie, Rear Window, will absolutely love this peeing tom narrative. But don’t expect high octane thrills, and a kick-ass soundtrack- Red Road is a slow burner, which for most part feels like a Crimewatch exerpt.