As in Rear Window and Disturbia, our hero is an immobilized male, trapped at home, thrown upon his own resources. Terry, though, is even more benighted than Jeff or Kale. Not only is he that unfortunate movie stereotype, an accountant, but his wife has a flashy job (she’s a photographer, like Jeff) and she once had a fling with a rock star. Terry worries that he bores her, and for good reason: except for his half-hearted efforts at getting a job, he has no interests, not even the umbilical diversions of cable or the Internet enjoyed by Kale. He’s a cipher, and an angry one, living in a nameless and featureless city (the film was shot in Vancouver) in a dreary apartment building in which he and his wife seem to be the only inhabitants.
He doesn’t exist totally in a void, though. In addition to the occasional intrusions of his wife, he’s continuously bombarded by television reports on terrorism. Every time he looks up there’s an image of President Bush scolding him or raising specters of doom. When a young man of Middle Eastern appearance moves into a basement apartment across the courtyard, the wheels of paranoia start spinning. The guy doesn’t have any furniture, he dumps his trash at three in the morning, and he has Arabic-speaking friends who drop by to furtively deliver strange boxes. To top it off, the guy ogles his wife’s butt when she walks by his window.
That does it. Terry calls the FBI. But the agent unexpectedly takes an objective and rational approach (this must be the Canadian view of the FBI). Might Terry be acting out his personal frustrations on an innocent person who just happens to fit a terrorist profile? Could he be making his neighbor into a scapegoat for his own failures, his marital problems and — who knows? — his panic at perhaps being a latent homosexual? Wait a minute, Terry insists, what about the beakers and lab equipment in his neighbor’s apartment? But it’s too late. Terry has become a parody of the xenophobic, self-deluded extremes of six years of American foreign policy. Even when the film takes a cynical twist at the end, he remains the archetype of the average American trapped in the paranoia and paralysis of an insane asylum.
The view doesn’t get much cheerier in Andrea Arnold’s brilliant debut feature, Red Road. The title refers to a hideous Glasgow council housing tower, and the observer is Jackie (Kate Dickie), a police officer locked in a blue-lit room of monitors picking up broadcasts from the hundreds of CCTV security monitors scattered about the city.
When it comes to surveillance, it seems that no other place rivals Britain — five million cameras blanket the island, they say, one for every five people. Recently, security at a London housing project secreted cameras in baked-bean cans — in reality, not in some wacky movie parody, like Hot Fuzz — to spy on residents taking out the trash. On the other hand, maybe this assault on privacy is for a good reason: just last week five homegrown terrorists with ties to the 2005 London bombings were convicted of plotting new attacks.