BIFF Review: Red Rooms

In Red Rooms, director Pascal Plante has constructed a modern masterpiece of psychological tension unlike any this reviewer has seen in over a decade. Throughout the duration of the film, I simply could not get comfortable, and this without even the slightest bit of gore or violence on screen.  Bravo.

Kelly-Anne (played by real-life model Juliette Gariepy) spends most of her time obsessing about accused serial killer Ludovic Chevalier (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos)’s ongoing murder trial, that is when she’s not playing online poker for cryptocurrency or modeling professionally for the real thing. Three young girls have been murdered brutally and the process has been filmed and streamed online in what we find out are called “red rooms,” where anonymous people pay to watch real-life snuff films.

Kelly-Anne’s life–like much of the film–is seemingly devoid of any real joy. Her apartment is often dark and foreboding, lacking any kind of warmth or sense of comfort. It’s as stark and impersonal as the alleys in which she sleeps each morning to ensure she gets a seat in the courthouse. She’s one of several “groupies” at the trial, one of whom (Clementine; played by Laurie Babin) is desperate to defend the accused, regardless of the evidence provided by the state. Clementine is an open book; conversely, Kelly-Anne never reveals her cards until the very end.

The poker motif is central to the entire film even though it only occupies a small segment of the story. Kelly-Anne calmly explains to an oft-high-strung Clementine how getting other players emotional is the way to win, and this extends to her personality and demeanor throughout the film–she never seems to flinch or look flustered until her obsession with the case starts to lose her some modeling contracts. “Your style is edgy, we get that–but not this edgy.” her agent tells her. Indeed, the longer we watch things unfold, we wonder if she’ll ever break down and reveal her true self. Why exactly is she following this trial? Is she secretly in love with the accused?  Is she a patron to these red rooms? Does she harbor any dark secrets of her own?

As the film progresses, Plante does a masterful job of slowly rendering each character’s set of cards completely transparent until the only thing they can do is show us the truth.  Absolutely recommended, and easily one of the best films at this festival this year.

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