Red River Road
Anna (Jade Schuyler) gets up in the morning and heads out to pick up the bar-coded green crate left at the end of her driveway, noting with satisfaction that another just like it sits at the end of a neighbor’s drive. She’s disturbed by a dream that she had about her husband, Stephen (Paul Schuyler), but fails to tell him its most worrisome aspect. We will learn they are isolated by Anna’s extreme reaction to her eldest son Sean (Shaw Schuyler) cutting himself while old newspaper headlines inform the bridge to Cape Cod has been closed, Facebook and Twitter shut down and cell phones banned. The family is in lockdown against a most unusual virus on “Red River Road.”
Laura's Review: B+
One can imagine the concept at the heart of writer/director/cinematographer/editor/star Paul Schuyler’s movie coming to him in a haze of pot smoke, one of those philosophical ideas that people high on weed seem to delight in debating. But his film, shot entirely in his own house with only his family and equipment on hand during the COVID pandemic, is a vividly realized, artfully constructed, thoroughly professional piece of work that belies its DIY origins. Schuyler’s slow burn paranoia piece keeps unsettling us by continually shifting our perception and works like a classic Twilight Zone episode seen for the first time.
As we watch this family of four go through their days of gardening, tool shop working and home schooling that end with a meal and a board game or movie (“The Ninth Configuration!” “John Carpenter’s The Thing!”), details build the bigger picture. Anna asks her husband how he’d ‘know if this was real.’ The family dog, Brody, begins to growl at something unseen in the back of their house. Anna steps over their property line into the street and suffers a physical response as if she were wearing a shock collar which sends her stumbling back. There is panic when their landline rings, everyone racing to the phone to report their name and an ID number. Apparently this call is where one can ask for desired items, like DVDs, although Stephen is frustrated that new shoes for Sean and Wyatt (Quinn Schuyler) have yet to arrive and treats like bacon or a bottle of whiskey appear to be random.
Unease escalates when Brody disappears one day, a loss felt most profoundly by Stephen. Any attempt to stay awake to see who delivers that crate ends at 2 a.m., when sleep always wins (and where Schuyler hints at something eerie). But it is the day Stephen notices Wyatt attempt to hide something beneath his bed that Anna’s world begins to unravel.
From the film’s varying camera angles and multiple camera coverage to its performances to its twistily constructed narrative to effects achieved with editing and lighting to every little detail, from mocking up newspapers to getting Brody the dog to act, “Red River Road” would appear to be the work of a full film crew with carefully cast professional actors (the Schuylers are all active in Cape Cod theater productions and Art Devine, the only non-family member who appears in one terrifyingly realistic scene, directed Jade’s 2018 play ‘The Tuna Goddess’). This is a remarkable independent film, far better than a lot of highly budgeted Hollywood fare. That it is also a pandemic film about a virus that doesn’t suffer any of the drawbacks afflicting pandemic-shot movies is also a marvel. And while a January 18, 2022 interview in the Cape Cod Times states that Schuyler denies having a political agenda, it is difficult to dissociate one in a movie featuring microchips in the bloodstream and people living in alternate realities.
Schuyler has even cooked up a totally satisfying conclusion, another escalation to everything that’s come before. “Red River Road” is a gem of a discovery, one which deserves a following bred by word of mouth.
Robin's Review: B+
A pandemic has struck the internet and the virus has disrupted the entire world. One family - dad Stephen, mom Anna and their two sons, Wyatt and Sean – have endured the isolation but it, and the virus, take its toll on “Red River Road.”
So, you are a family of four very creative people versed in the art of filmmaking and they are in lockdown due to COVID. What do you do? Well, if you are the Schuyler family of Harwich, Massachusetts, you make a film about a pandemic - but not about the one we have grown to know and love.
A virus has infected the internet and it has spread around the world. It takes away your ability to understand reality and the stalwart family follows all of the government protocols meant to protect them. But a virus closer to home –isolation and no way of knowing what is really going on in the world – is equally devastating to them all.
As the story progresses and pieces begin to fall into place, you realize that this is a creative extension of the crisis we have lived with for two and a half years (and, no, it is not over). There is even an actual chip that is implanted in the citizen’s neck to ensure control by the government. It is a dystopian tale that hits far too close to my humble abode.
Gravitas Ventures will release “Red River Road” on digital platforms on 10/4/22.