Crime Scene is a monthly Vague Visages column about the relationship between crime cinema and movie locations. This Red Rooms essay contains spoilers. Pascal Plante’s 2023 film features Juliette Gariépy, Laurie Babin and Elisabeth Locas. Check out VV movie reviews, along with cast/character articles, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings, at the home page.
The weather and general climate of a place makes a vast difference to how people behave. Not just basic lifestyle differences, such as being able to have dinner outside where the weather is reliably pleasant, or the mental stress of going to work and leaving in total darkness in the far north, but less perceptible changes to do with how people relate to each other and place themselves in the world. Writing here from the UK, I can certainly tell you that if it were simply a little bit more sunny here, people would just be far less miserable to be around. Likewise, the time I spend back home in Serbia is greatly defined by the time of year; the summers are spent outside with the nights starting late and ending with the sunrise to get away from the heat, whilst the winters are spent stuffed indoors in smoke-filled rooms. People have a tendency to be more open in the warm months of the year. These are just basic generalizations of course, as these climate shifts play a far greater role in our psyche.
Plenty of crime cinema plays on the weather and its effects. John Huston’s Key Largo (1948) pits Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson against each other in the Florida Keys as a hurricane approaches, with the humidity and thunder creating sparks. The Rio de Janeiro-set City of God (2002) makes the tropical heat part of its staccato atmosphere. And in the Ozploitation classic, Wake in Fright (1971), the desert heat and rural isolation conspire to drive the protagonist berserk. In “hot weather” crime films, folks are keen to take any excuse to let the tension out, aggravated by the extreme heat: everything is forever on a knife-edge when the sweat and sun is pounding on your brow.
Red Rooms Essay: Related — Know the Cast & Characters: ‘Heat’
Going in the other direction, “cold weather” crime films have the protagonists bottling up their troubles. In the Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1996), the brutal Minnesotan winter keeps everyone inside, with plenty of time to contemplate hare-brained schemes. In Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia (2002) and the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name by Erik Skjoldbjaerg, the perpetual daylight of an Arctic Circle summer leads to both the detective and the antagonist slowly cracking under the strain. Indeed, the entire wave of Scandi-noir, whose stylistic iciness and formal rigor has become de rigueur for prestige TV, emerges from the coldness of its home landscape and the clean, modernist lines of Scandinavian architecture — all of which are used to conceal sordid crimes and ugly histories.
Red Rooms Essay: Related — Soundtracks of Television: ‘In From the Cold’
I have never been to Canada but am reliably told that it’s quite cold. Red Rooms, set in Montreal of Quebec, uses the city’s autumn cold of the city to its every advantage. The cyber-thriller, directed by Pascal Plante, is frankly an utterly demented, deranged piece of work, and all the better for it. Red Rooms’ characters are deeply shaped by the geography and the climate around them.
Red Rooms Essay: Related — Know the Cast: ‘In From the Cold’
In the long flowing take that opens Red Rooms, Plante introduces a windowless courtroom and a man named Ludovic Chevalier (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos); a pale middle-aged, balding individual accused of kidnapping, mutilating and murdering three teenage girls for paying viewers on a livestream on the dark web. But as both sets of lawyers deliver their opening addresses, the camera glides over Ludovic and onto a woman present at the trial: Kelly-Anne (Juliette Gariépy). It’s her obsession with the case which Red Rooms focuses on: she’s not necessarily a “serial killer groupie” (the phenomena whereby women become attracted to and even fall in love with convicted serial killers), but Kelly-Anne is clearly consumed by the circumstances surrounding the case.
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Kelly-Anne’s unhealthy voyeurism is part of a wider lifestyle that simply barely seems credible. She’s a model, but also a pro poker player betting with Bitcoin. Kelly-Anne is a computer genius and hacker who rents a luxurious flat high up in a city-center skyscraper but chooses to sleep on the streets instead. Everything about her is opaque and unreadable. High up in a flat, Kelly-Anne seems incapable of any genuine human connection, isolating herself from the world around her and existing almost exclusively in online spaces or visiting the courtroom.
Red Rooms Essay: Related — Know the Cast & Characters: ‘Poker Face’
Red Rooms’ sets reflect Kelly-Anne’s lack of personality. Not only is her home lacking in furniture (just one desk chair), but the Montreal courthouse feels more like an airport than a civic institution, with its security scans, endless corridors and sleek modernist designs. The courtroom itself, surrounded by white walls, is a sterile, soulless place, one which perversely is expected to be the place to present a heart-wrenching story. The courtroom space gives no indication of any personality or warmth, just a never-ending parade of function over style, much like Kelly-Anne herself. Plante never reveals anything out about her inner life, and it’s a credit to Gariépy’s superb performance that his co-star makes a slim cipher of a character into something genuinely intriguing.
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This dislocation forms much of Red Rooms’ purpose: it is not just Kelly-Anne who approaches the case with obsessive curiosity, but a whole host of news cameras, ever present outside the courtroom and badgering its participants with questions. Near every visit to and from the courtroom is bookended by the presence of TV news.
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Amidst these sleek lines and superficial cleanliness, Plante throws in the figure of Clementine (Laurie Babin), very much the other side of the coin to Kelly-Anne. She is a “groupie,” introduced giving a rambling speech to news reporters about Ludovic’s innocence, and is clearly infatuated with him. Clementine arrives in Montreal frorm Thetford, a small town about three hours away, and she’s depicted as a lonely small-town woman without much money (just like Kelly-Anne).
Red Rooms Essay: Related — Know the Cast: ‘Fingernails’
The two women strike up a strange friendship; perhaps Kelly-Anne sees a reserve of empathy and warmth in Clementine that’s missing in her own life, even as Clementine misdirects that empathy in the worst possible direction. That misdirected empathy is an implicit acknowledgment of Clementine’s own low self-esteem and sense of isolation in small-town, icy Canada. Babin’s wide, slightly buggy eyes give her the feel of someone deeply impressionable — it’s easy to see how she might convince herself Ludovic is innocent (the principal evidence against him is the snuff videos, where he appears masked but eyes still visible, but she argues that it’s photoshopped). Just as TV media feasts on the case itself, so too do late-night chat shows — Clementine near enough has a breakdown phoning into one of these where she’s roundly mocked by the hosts. Plante films this scene with a number of broken, fragmented eyelines in the edit, highlighting just how isolated the young woman is, and how that fuels her conspiratorialist attitude.
Red Rooms Essay: Related — Soundtracks of Cinema: ‘Fingernails’
Kelly-Anne and Clementine make for a fascinating odd couple, which in itself speaks to the female consumption of true crime material in modern culture. A common answer to this obsession is that these young women see in themselves a reflection of the mostly female victims of sordid true crime stories — and this identification, either via the killer or through media consumption, is a way of living vicariously through these stories or regaining some sense of agency. In the case of Red Rooms’ protagonists, that’s only slightly true: Kelly-Anne and Clementine are both isolated and anonymous to begin with, and their identification with the case is closer to being able to act out a fantasy of being “recognized” or even, perversely, desired. Given that Kelly-Anne is a porcelain-perfect model, that might sound absurd, but there’s a deeper impulse — a sense of identification of wanting to be something you’re not and can never be.
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Outside of the courtroom, Red Rooms continually returns to close-ups of Gariépy, her face lit up by the glow of a computer screen late at night in her apartment. The film rarely spends time outside, as if the iciness of Montreal seems only to exacerbate these obsessive needs to consume sordid material. Viewers receive no glimpse of Montreal’s ornate, colonial-era architecture — there’s just an utterly soulless land of glass, steel and hard concrete lines.
Red Rooms Essay: Related — Soundtracks of Cinema: ‘A Million Miles Away’
Red Rooms provides a perfect recipe for isolation and alienation, encouraged by a media world around us that seeks only to capture attention and never thoughts. In this sense, the main locations are soulless by design – the audience’s attention should theoretically be elsewhere, otherwise one might start taking a closer look at the trash being consumed.
Fedor Tot (@redrightman) is a Yugoslav-born, Wales-raised freelance film critic and editor, specializing in the cinema of the ex-Yugoslav region. Beyond that, he also has an interest in film history, particularly in the way film as a business affects and decides the function of film as an art.
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