Red River Road [Grimmfest Review]: A Family Affair
A pandemic. A lockdown. A family stuck indoors and struggling with their isolation. All of this is painfully familiar to everyone right now, so it’s a big risk to make a film about something so raw, something that we’re all still living through. Red River Road takes that risk, adds a new twist onto the proceedings and is so creative and beautifully executed that it definitely isn’t just a film dwelling on our current times and instead is sure to be known as an incredible creative feat during an intensely hard time worldwide.
Having not researched the film before viewing it wasn’t until the Q&A session afterwards that I was informed this was a lockdown family passion project with only two names on the IMDB credits that don’t end in Schuyler. Paul and Jade Schuyler, and their two sons Quinn and Shaw, have pulled off something phenomenal with the creation of this film and have set a high bar in the indie production world. Even their stunning dog, Brody, is involved making this a true family affair that has impressed the hell out of me.
There’s a house on Red River Road in which the Witten family lives, they receive a daily care package from an unseen government and cannot leave the boundaries of their houses due to the chips implanted in their necks. The world is not the same as it once was, a virus has changed the landscape of everyday life and staying home is staying safe. There is no socialising, no social media and no video calls, because this virus isn’t transmitted by people, rather by the internet, meaning that all devices are locked away and physical media is back in trend. The only contact this family has with the outside world is a daily phone call from a wordless government caller who checks in but doesn’t seem to truly listen.
The Witten family get by as best they can, finding the idyllic qualities amongst the fear and containment they are dealing with. They’re a sweet family and the dynamic between them is earnest and heartfelt, of course this all makes sense in finding out that they are a real family, it adds a naturalism to their performances and makes it easy to empathise with them. For the beginning of the film there’s a focus on the exterior, the virus, the government and the misery of being stuck with no idea when the world will go back to normal, or if it ever will. They talk of ‘some day’ and how it ‘can’t go on forever’ but there’s definitely a sense of defeat in these conversations.
“There are so many messages that can be taken from the film and each audience member will find themselves pulling on the thread of a different one.”
Things begin to unravel as the film builds and paranoia, misinformation and confusion creep their way into the family. Anna (Jade Schuyler), the mother, is tormented with dreams that make her question reality and take their toll on her mental health. These sequences are beautiful, bringing an uncanny verisimilitude through the use of real home video of the family but adding unease by using a VHS style filter and the asynchronous sound of disasters. This slow fall into potential madness continues to rise throughout the final act as Anna worries that she, or one of her family, may already have the virus.
Reality begins to unwind even more as the family dog goes missing, shortly followed by her husband Stephen (Paul Schuyler) and her sons Wyatt (Quinn Schuyler) and Sean (Shawn Schuyler). This is where the disorientation begins and the lines between reality and nightmare are blurred both for Anna and the audience. The virus warps people, makes them mad and traps them in a fever dream, is that what’s happening here or is it something more sinister?
Nothing is given away too soon, questions are allowed to breath and information is dripped slowly through the script. The pacing is suspenseful and transitions excellently from a heartfelt story of a family battling an unseeable virus to an internal exploration of the effects of the world on the mind and how harrowing true isolation can be.
Impressive doesn’t seem to adequately describe this film, it truly is a remarkable task this family undertook and the execution is stunning. Dread and doubt is laced throughout and it definitely taps into some very current fears whilst still feeling timeless. There are so many messages that can be taken from the film and each audience member will find themselves pulling on the thread of a different one. It’s about family, loss, created reality, misinformation, but each message is open to be interpreted by the individual. Right now, we can all relate to Red River Road.