Movie Review: Bar-coded Pandemic Paranoia drops in on “Red River Road”

“Red River Road” is a dramatically-flat paranoid thriller about an isolated family unsure about the reality of the pandemic that put them there.

Sources of paranoia? Start with an enforced lack of information, a “box” that brings them food, a ban on cell phones and Internet usage, which is blamed for the contagion, and an assault on memory that could be described as “gaslighting” in a more sinister light.

The Cape Cod filmmaking family of writer-director and star Paul Schuyler made this, a reasonably polished (the odd “off mike” moment) but dully-scripted affair that taps into conspiracy theories that date back decades. No, not “contrails” and “vaccines” and the like, but that ’80s “The Government is planning to ENSLAVE us with barcodes” mania. “They’ve even got them on the HIGHWAY signs!”

And “chips,” or course. No meal for the paranoid in America is complete without implanted “chips.”

Stephen and Anna (Paul and Jade Schuyler) and their sons Wyatt and Shawn (Quinn Schuyler and Shaw Schuyler) fled Boston for “the summer house” some while back to escape a plague.

“The less people the better,” Stephen declares. “It’s safer here.”

Anna laments that they have “no life to go back to…’Someday’ has no meaning for me” any more.

Whatever this contagion is, it bends people’s perception of reality. Just like social media? And it’s killed people they knew. Just like…

But as we yawn through the banalities of their daily existence, we see how this isolation works, and works on them.

They get a tense, scheduled phone call which requires that they answer it with ID numbers and order necessities in the most curt fashion possible. A green barcoded plastic bin arrives when they’re sleeping with old movies (“The Ninth Configuration,” the John Carpenter version of “The Thing”) and food.

There are finite limits to their world — cell phones, etc., banned, sharply-defined borders to how far beyond the edge of their yard they can go. And as they follow the rules, their memories start to work on on. Some of them start to wonder what is real, and what all this obedience is gaining them.

The acting is drab, save for the inevitable third act meltdown when the picture pokes around for a resolution. The shot selection, overly-urgent score and editing hypes this bland affair into something it decidedly is not — exciting.

Whatever the messaging, it’s just not very interesting or compelling. “Red River Road” is more a movie that putters along, not really going anywhere, not taking any time to create suspense until very late in the game, not conjuring up a mystery most would care to solve before the characters do.

Rating: unrated, profanity

Cast: Paul Schuyler, Jade Schuyler, Quinn Schuyler, Shaw Schuyler and Art Devine.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Paul Schuyler. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:31

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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