Review by Sean Boelman
In addition to being a showcase for the best genre cinema from around the world, Fantasia also shines a spotlight on home-grown Canadian pictures, the highlight of which is often the opening night film. This year’s opener is the thriller Red Rooms, directed by Pascal Plante, is an all-around unpleasant watch, and it’s sadly not as challenging as it seems to think it is.
The movie follows a woman who becomes obsessed with the high-profile case of a serial killer accused of murdering a group of young women and filming the killings to be distributed as snuff films on the dark web. Part courtroom drama and part mystery, there are a lot of interesting ideas happening in Red Rooms, but they never entirely come together.
The subject matter the movie discusses is quite tricky, and it handles it in a way that feels grounded without going overboard. Obviously, the intention of the film is to condemn these horrific actions, and thus, it isn’t particularly gratuitous. Still, that doesn’t mean that the movie isn’t thoroughly upsetting and uncomfortable to sit through, and not always in a good way.
Plante’s direction creates some truly disturbing and unsettling moments. Of course, we never see any of the snuff footage directly — we only watch the horrified reaction of the spectators as the terrifying audio plays in the background. Yet, even in leaving it to the imagination, the film manages to be one of the most chilling in recent memory.
The most interesting portions of the movie are those which explore the strange fascination society has with serial killers and their misdeeds. We live in a world where court cases play like reality TV and true crime podcasts make up nearly a quarter of the most popular podcasts, and Plante’s film points out that our morbid fascination with these crimes is nearly as disturbing as the crimes themselves.
However, the way in which the movie goes about exploring these themes is only partially effective. The film presents us with two primary characters — one more mysterious with a complex relationship to the case that we will soon discover, and another who is a devoted follower of the killer proclaiming his innocence. Unfortunately, these characters are consistently frustrating — equal parts ambiguous and flat, making it hard to get truly invested in the story.
The performances are also relatively bland, causing the movie to feel even colder than it already was. Juliette Gariépy does not have a compelling enough presence to lead the film. Maxwell McCabe-Lokos is certainly creepy as the serial killer on the stand, but he’s not given much to do at all.
There is definitely an interesting movie somewhere in Red Rooms, but the film’s approach to its subject matter is not always successful. If Pascal Plante simply wanted to make the most upsetting movie of the year, he succeeded. Unfortunately, it feels like there is something missing here.
Red Rooms screened at the 2023 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs from July 20 to August 9.