Kelly-Anne (Juliette Gariépy) spends her days in her minimalist condo playing high stakes poker on line for bitcoin, doing edgy modelling for online fashion brands, and dealing with any feelings of instability by loading up online HIIT workouts. She has no family, no friends, no partner, only an agent who her books her model shoots and Guinevere, a digital home assistant that she’s programmed herself. At night, she sleeps outside the Palais de Justice in Montreal to get a seat at the trial of Ludovic Chevalier who is accused of brutally torturing, murdering, and dismembering three young teen girls for paying viewers on the dark web in what is known as a “red room”. Why is Kelly-Anne there? Is she one of Chevalier’s groupies, in love with the accused? Is she an amateur sleuth? Is she curious? Is she just a psychopath?
The answer to this question – why is Kelly-Anne there – is the driving force behind Les Chambres Rooms, while simultaneously abstracting and embodying our own interest in serial killers. Stories about some of the most deranged people on the planet take top ranking slots whether the media is podcasts, books, tv shows, films. Real trials become a media circus. Why do we want to know more about their psychology, their background, the grisly details of their murders, their habits and beliefs? Do we do it because we think that if we can understand a serial killer, we can avoid them or preven them? Do we obsessively consume coverage of serial killers as a way to get justice for their crimes as well as the disruption they bring to our sense of safety? And, of course, why do some people become infatuated with them?
Les Chambres Rouges doesn’t answer these questions, but it does explore Kelly-Anne’s reasons, along with that of another young woman she befriends at the trial, Clementine (Laurie Babin). Clementine has hitchhiked from Thetford, a town in rural Quebec, to the big city of Montreal and has been sleeping on the streets and at a shelter in order to attend the trial. Clementine is convinced of Ludovic’s innocence — that he has been framed and the evidence is too circumstantial to convict him. Kelly-Anne takes Clementine in, and the chatty, sensitive girl serves as the perfect foil for the icy cool competence of Kelly-Anne. But while Clementine is clear on why she is at the trial, Kelly-Anne never shows her hand in regards to her motives.
To say more will spoil the twists that make this thriller so gripping, but there are many things to praise about the film. By allowing each character to be complex and unresolved, director Pascal Plante permits his film to be both mature and tantalizingly uncomfortable. Gariépy and Babin give great performances as psychologically damaged women, as so does Maxwell McCabe-Lokos as Chevalier, a fascinating character though he never speaks and spends every shot in a Perspex case, looking withered and small, picking at his own hands. It’s hard not to try and assess his guilt from his demeanor. The shots are beautifully directed, especially the long opening statements of the two lawyers and people in the courtroom, panning from one victim’s mother, to the judges, to the jury, to the emotionless accused, to Kelly-Anne herself.
Les Chambres Rouges / The Red Rooms is a fantastic opener for Fantasia. It’s been appearing on festival circuits and is sure to make its way to the cinemas or streaming services soon.
The Fantasia continues until August 9. Details on all films and tickets HERE.