04/10/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: Red Riding Trilogy

The Red Riding trilogy is exactly the kind of project that video-on-demand was made for.

Make no mistake: These are high-quality mystery-thrillers, made for British television but better than most American cop films, with more going on than the case that seems to be at the center of each film. Layered and well-acted, they are psychologically riveting and complexly plotted.

But there are three of them.

And while each film is complete unto itself, the three of them are like separate sections of the same novel (actually, the product of four novels by writer David Peace, condensed into three films). You need to consume the entire story to get the total experience. And that's the problem.

It's a bold undertaking to create a film trilogy for any number of reasons but the short list goes like this: Who has time to go see three films, whether on the same day (a minimum of a six-hour commitment, assuming a minimal bathroom/snack break between films) or over the course of three days? It's a lot to ask of an audience, particularly with films featuring thick midlands British accents and no real stars to speak of? It's one thing to make three Lord of the Rings films and release them annually for three years; it's another to make a three-part mystery and release all three films at the same time.

I happened to catch up with the trilogy (which was part of the New York Film Festival) because the three films were screened back to back one afternoon during the week between Christmas and New Year's; I still felt a certain frisson of guilt at devoting the better part of a day to what amounted to a six-hour movie. But otherwise, I doubt I would have been able to block out that kind of time.

So, as I said, this trio is perfect for video-on-demand, where you can watch them at home on your own schedule. Which happens to be one of the delivery systems IFC is employing for this filmmaking experiment.

Based on the Peace quartet, the trilogy consists of three films with the same name and different dates: Red Riding 1974, Red Riding 1980 and Red Riding 1983. All three have scripts by the same writer, Tony Grisoni. Each film features a few overlapping characters from the film before and each, to some extent, deals with the same series of child abductions and murders that remain unsolved.

This review continues on my website.