Red Rooms les chambres rouges

Quebec film Red Rooms is a haunting serial killer thriller

An interview with the film’s producer Dominique Dussault about combining real stories of serial killer groupies, social critique and cyber thriller tropes.

In Pascal Plante’s latest film, Red Rooms, much of the first act occurs in Montreal’s Palais de Justice. The accused sits in a glass box in a room. The white space reflects a more Canadian approach to justice: bureaucratic blankness overtakes the judicial American pageantry we are used to seeing on the big screen. Two lawyers make their opening statements regarding the accused, who is under investigation for the murder of young girls. From the courtroom, a young woman watches with an inscrutable gaze. 

Stories of serial killer groupies inspired Red Rooms — people, many young women, who fawn over people (primarily men) accused of heinous crimes. The film focuses on two women who wake up early to ensure a spot in the courtroom. Our protagonist, Kelly-Anne (Juliette Gariépy), is a reserved tech-genius and statuesque model with ambiguous motives, while the more naive Clémentine (Laurie Babin) is sure of the killer’s innocence. The pair strike up an unlikely friendship over the film.

Producer Dominique Dussault has worked in the Quebec industry for nine years and also produced Pascal Plante’s previous feature Nadia Butterfly. Red Rooms recently opened the Fantasia International Film Festival after a successful world premiere at the Karlovy Vary film festival in the Czech Republic. While producers aren’t always present from the start of production, Dussault initiated the film’s focus.

“A friend of mine had encountered serial killer groupies in real life, and there were no films on the subject,” explains Dussault. “It was not only an underexplored idea but an opportunity to do a social critique; touch on how the media and the public are culpable. Pascal brought in elements of the cyber thriller.”

From start to premiere, the movie took about three years — an astonishingly fast process within the Quebec industry. “We got very lucky. Our project was accepted right away by SODEC, which is rare,” says Dussault. While many films germinate for years as an idea, Red Rooms quickly came together, though on the project end, that doesn’t mean it was easy. The production was relatively small, and finding the suitable locations was difficult. COVID still heavily impacted production. It took about six months to secure the locations at the Palais de Justice. “They were helpful,” says Dussault, but the process was still long. Finding the three condos in the film wasn’t easy. “Montreal has many condo towers, but we’re not Toronto.” 

Dussault also worked closely with the casting process. Both she and Plante saw Juliette Gariépy in the role of Kelly-Anne. “We saw her in short films. We knew we needed her,” says Dussault. She auditioned and got the part. Laurie Babin was not what the filmmakers had in mind for Clémentine initially. Still, even doing auditions via Zoom, she exhibited a profound empathy while many other performers opted for caricature. “We did a dual audition with Gariépy and Babin, which worked so well.”

The hard work pays off. The film has the unmistakable sleekness of late-period Fincher. Movies like Gone Girl and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo blend ambiguous moral questions with sleek, even cold production design. Plante’s filmmaking feels inspired by cinema from the Romanian New Wave, movies like Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days that blend genre elements with a rigorous naturalist style to explore the challenging unstable reality of post-Communist Romania. Red Rooms may be unmistakably Québécois, but it has international aspirations. 

Though having only played at festivals so far, Red Rooms has thus far won over its audiences. The reviews are strong. At Fantasia, Dussault notes, people were “gasping and leaning forward in their seats.” The audience response thus far suggests Pascal Plante may finally find a wide audience. Nadia Butterfly was set to premiere at the Cannes film festival in 2020 when the pandemic hit. The movie, which uses non-actors and a minimalist, observational style, tells the story of one swimmer’s journey at the 2020 Olympics in Japan. The film, which only ever got a minimal theatrical release, was rigorous and ambitious but is now mainly remembered as an alternate history of 2020 if COVID had never happened. 

Dussault got her start working on short films and documentaries. She also worked in distribution, which helped her better understand release strategies. Dussault is a hands-on producer and sees the role as a different storytelling. With her projects, she favours ambition and sees an opportunity to help bring unconventional and daring films to the public. 

At this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Dussault is also pitching a film with filmmaker Olivier Godin as part of the Frontières co-production market. Based on the novel Anna Nous Parlera, the film is about a book that makes people’s heads explode once they finish reading it. “It’s universal; we see the question of our liberty of expression worldwide,” says Dussault. “It’s a dark comedy that explores a very serious subject.” Godin, whose feature film Irlande cahier bleu also had its world premiere at Fantasia, similarly won the Camera Lucia prize from the AQCC (the Quebec Critics Association).

With a wide release looming in Quebec, and a festival run underway, Red Rooms feels like a visionary, contemporary film. Without showing too much gore, the film uses sound and insinuation to draw itself into the audience’s psyche. It’s a stark and haunting film that is not easily forgotten. At Fantasia, it picked up four awards in the main Cheval Noir competition, including Best Picture, Best Score, Best Lead Performance and Best Screenplay. For Dussault, seeing one of her projects come to fruition is special. “It’s extremely precious to me,” she says. ■

Red Rooms opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Aug 11. 

This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of Cult MTL.

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