Rose Red


dir. Simon Pummell (, BFI/Channel4, 1994.

Best of the BFI’s recent films is Rose Red, a high-tech sci-fi mystery that addresses anxieties about surveillance, virtual reality, addiction and lethal viruses.

Time Out

In 2025, a detective’s investigation of a drug theft forces him to explore his dark side. Black and white dream sequences of the detective as an innocent boy contrast with the clinical future setting. The Rose Red of the title is a drug used to switch off the body’s immune system so that people can jack into computers without the body rejecting the experience with fatal consequences.

I co-wrote the screenplay for this with Simon Pummell. Interviewed by David Mathew in 2000, I explained the film this way: “My first novel, Hothead, was  how I came to work with a director, Simon Pummell, with whom I did a few short films. He fell in love with my meat trees. And I was already thinking about stripping things back so that somebody could put a 13-amp plug in their head. We ended up doing a 30-minute cyberpunk thriller, Rose Red, which got made. It then got expanded into a feature film, which we wrote, which went into development, which we actually got paid for, but never got made — for various budgetary considerations, and because, basically, it was terrible…

“One of the reasons it didn’t work, and why no cyberspace film ever works, is that you can’t film cyberspace. If it’s going to be a heavenly place, a transcendent place, then it’s certainly going to have to transcend 35mm film! The best you’ll ever be able to do is shine a bright light into the camera and hope that the audience have some imagination. It’s much easier to do it in fiction. Which is ironic, considering the fatal fascination it’s had for filmmakers over the last 10 years. People have joyously leapt off the cliff, like so many lemmings. The better the film technology gets, the worse the films seem to get — again, ironically enough. There’s probably a lot to be said for keeping things simple; for encouraging the imagination, and not showing everything there is to be shown…”