Red River Road Ending Explained- Is Anna Infected, Is She Cured, And What Was Real?
Pandemic horror has become a subgenre all its own. Whether it be the terror of isolation or the dangers of desperate humans behaving badly, it’s here to stay. Red River Road dabbles in that space paved out by Stephen King’s The Cell and the criminally underseen Pontypool and mixes in a splash of Hidden. The fact that there are so many references here is not a bad thing. Await Further Instructions and oddly They Live are also represented, making Red River Road feel both familiar and utterly unique.
A virus has infected millions of people, and the afflicted no longer can tell reality from digital life. An internet virus similar to the spoken one in Pontypool destroys the victims’ perception of what is real. A family of four has fled to a summer house, hoping to be safe. Hospitals and stores are closed, and all forms of digital life have been forbidden. Every day they receive a barcoded box with food and other supplies. A rotary phone rings occasionally, and identification codes must be provided before requests are made.
Although the group has no one but each other, things aren’t so bad early in Red River Road. The ban on internet and cell use means this family has reconnected. They play games and watch DVDs together. They likely communicate more than they ever have. Little by little, cracks begin to show, though. Anna(Jade Schuyler)has nightmares and is plagued by anxiety. The dog growls and barks at seeming nothing.
There are clues if you know where to look. Anna’s strange dreams are highly symbolic. In addition, the family cannot reach out to anyone outside their bubble for help or support; the cheekiest clue is John Carpenter’s The Thing. In the Thing, an alien entity can mimic any living creature making it indistinguishable from the real thing.
After using a box cutter to cut out a microchip in her neck, Anna can roam free through her community, where she finds nothing. She returns home to find only one son remaining, and when she wakes the following day, she is alone. Then, the phone that has rung sporadically throughout the film begins ringing, and it is worth noting it changes colors from green to beige. She refuses to answer the phone when it rings and instead begins a frantic search for a cell phone. She finds one where her husband Stephen(Paul Schuyler) hid it earlier and starts a Facetime call with her husband. To her shock, he picks up and says he and their sons are at the summer house.
The electricity goes out, and the call is cut short. The ominous rotary phone rings again, and she ignores it while searching her house in the dark. She gets chased by her son, growling and grunting as he lurches after her. Both sons chase her up the stairs, where she locks herself in a bedroom, loads a gun, and fires at the monsters her family has become. Her shots go through them like ghosts, and the screen goes back as she presumably shoots herself dead.
She wakes the next morning unharmed in the summer house just as her family arrives. They greet her warmly, and even the dog, lost earlier in the film, is back. Stephen asks her if she is feeling better, and when she cannot answer, he says the doctors told him that was normal and should dissipate in time. She touches his chest tearfully, hoping what she felt was real.
What does the ending of Red River Road mean?
Anna was infected and may still be with the reality virus. Everything we saw before she removed the chip was a figment of her imagination. It was a dream she couldn’t wake from despite her subconscious trying to make her understand it wasn’t real. This is why she constantly had dreams of chasing after her husband. Deep down, she knew all of it was a hallucination she had created. Whether you believe Anna is still sick depends on your outlook on life.
If you are a hopeful person, you likely believe Anna suffered from the illness but was able to cure herself with time and conscious effort. Earlier, it was stated that this disease could be cured through thought. The fact that her family returns to her with grocery sacks from the grocery store bolsters this theory. Her family is safe, and life has restarted. If, however, you believe this is another layer of inception, Anna has created another dream for her to live in. In this reality, the lockdown has been waived, and the world was returning to normal. That Anna doesn’t seem to believe her own mind is a red flag.
Additionally, if Anna called her husband the night before and he was at the summer house with their children all along, she could not be there now. It’s distinctly possible there are pieces from both illusions that are real. For example, the Facetime call was real, but the monster family wasn’t. It is also possible none of it is real. This would mean Anna is in a hospital somewhere where she is doomed to live out eternity locked in a nightmare. This reading of the film is dark. No matter how bad things are, reality is always better than delusion.
There are some plot holes. The power grid and most other utilities run courtesy of highly technical computerized systems and the internet. They are air-gapped for protection, but nothing is perfect. The daily rations also come barcoded, which implies another layer of necessary computerized infrastructure. These things seem to hint that nothing Anna experiences is real.
How to know what is real and what is a lie? What if it’s your own mind that’s lying to you courtesy of the government? It is a recipe for disaster for those already prone to doubt government motivations. What’s the most straightforward path to control? Isolation and disinformation culminating in no information at all would fast-track that process. Paul Schuyler’s pandemic thriller Red River Road shows how easily we could all be brainwashed into questioning ourselves. When even our memories are suspect, nothing would be real, and we would be forced to trust what we are told. Fear of the government isn’t something new. The COVID lockdown didn’t invent that fear. We just traded vaccine phobia for barcode mania. Those of a certain age remember not so fondly the insanity of the barcode conspiracies.
Behind the banalities of their life and the obvious nods to conspiracy panic, something very smart is said about how social media can skew our view of reality. Cultivated lives aren’t natural. No one lives their lives lit with the perfect lighting, sporting the highest of flattering fashion and attending the hippest and most virtuous events. That is artifice, and Red River Road alludes to this.
What’s the more significant threat, the internet and all the trapping of a digital world or being gaslit into denying yourself any life at all? There are dangers to being lost in memory. There is a reason there have been so many songs and movies written about memory. Hazy, water-colored memories, indeed. Dementia and Alzheimers are devastating diseases that rob families and sufferers of time and memory. Dying alone is a universal fear. Red River Road uses all these things and distills them in a deceptively quiet movie where the biggest threat is our own minds. You can stream this on Tibi right now.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.