Mike’s Portland Horror Film Festival Review: Red River Road (2020)

★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Paul Schuyler

It’s fair to say that we might not know the full impact of the global pandemic tragedy for years or even decades. Some have been tragically impacted by the pandemic, some have wandered in a face-covered fog, and others have irresponsibly stuck their heads in the sand. Everyone has had choices to make during the pandemic and those choices have manifested in the horrible, but they’ve also been used for creativity and good. 

The new film, Red River Road, is decidedly parked in the good and creative camp.  In probably the shortest credit sequence you’ll ever see, Red River Road was entirely created, shot, acted, and edited by the Schuyler Family — Paul (Dad), Jade (Mom), Quinn (son), and Shaw (son). Seriously, this was the ultimate soup-to-nuts experiment. Could a family create a film, tangentially about the pandemic, during the pandemic? The short answer is a resounding YES.

In Red River Road the Schuyler family sticks to what they know…pandemics. The film follows the family as they’ve climatized to the mundane day-in day-out existence of their isolation and the Speilberg-esque way in which the deal with each other in the confines of their home. This a pretty tight and functional family that has come to accept that they are deep in to quarantine. 

ATMOSfx! Woo!
The weight of the pandemic begins to sink in for Jade.

As they wander through the daze of the quarantine they’re greeted each day by a large green bin with a barcode on its side. The green bin is conveniently parked at the very edge of their driveway every single morning without fail. When Mom retrieves the bin each morning she longingly looks around to see if her neighbors are out and about, but no one ever is. 

The film quickly establishes that not only are the in a quarantine, but the government or some world power has trapped them in their house using a scheme not dissimilar from an electronic dog fence. The Schuylers are resolved to do their best, get along, play board games, watch classic cinema, and simply exist. 

In one of the most clever uses of home movies, the Schuyler family employs their very real vacation footage (with some editing trickery) to establish wild and disturbing dream sequences. What quickly becomes clear is nothing is clear. Time is toyed with, as is the actual existence of the various family members. Each family member nervously talks about the conspiracy surrounding the virus and its psychoactive consequences, the government’s hold over everything, and whether any parts of society are still functional. 

The film cleverly dribbles out small details as the claustrophobia and tension builds. What’s real? Who’s real? Is the entire thing a dream or do the have a chance to outrun/outlive the virus? Perfectly played, Red River Road metes out just enough to keep you conveniently confused and enthralled. 

The Schulyer family clearly has a penchant for cinema. Every shot in the film is studied and harkens to one of the myriad of their influences. More important than the editing and film work — which again, the did all on their own — is the acting. Some might argue that an actor playing themselves is kind of a cheat, but when the entire family does it, with aplomb, it’s nothing short of spectacular. 

They always say that crisis brings out one’s true self. If that’s the case then the Schuyler’s true self is overflowing creativity. If you think watching a film about a pandemic during the pandemic will be a true-blue downer, guess again. Red River Road is an amazing achievement that will have you pining for even more lockdown time with your very own family. 

Red River Road is likely a strong PG-13 and as of the summer of 2021 was making its way through the festival circuit.

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