Spoiler-Free Film Reviews: “Red Rooms” and “Dead Mail” (Overlook Film Festival)

April 9, 2024

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at josephperry@gmail.com. He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

Red Rooms (Les chambres rouges; Canada, 2023)

Pascal Plante’s French-language Canadian chiller Red Rooms deftly combines character study, psychological thriller, and courtroom drama. The film follows the obsession of two women with a serial killer suspect on trial for the gruesome murders of three teenage girls, which were broadcast for pay on the titular dark web outlet. Kelly-Anne (Juliette Gariépy in a riveting performance) is a fashion model who sits in on the trial of accused murderer Ludovic Chevalier (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) at the Superior Court of Quebec. Sitting near her is Clementine (Laurie Babin), a young woman also obsessed with Chevalier, believing that he is innocent and being framed. The pair are accused of being groupies by the mother of a victim. Kelly-Anne is aloof and quiet, and she lets the talkative out-of-towner Clementine stay with her in her high-rise apartment. Kelly-Anne is also something of an expert on the internet, making large sums of money playing online poker and — as Clementine discovers — working her way around the dark web. Plante has crafted a gripping work, keeping Kelly-Anne’s reasons for her actions a mystery. Gariépy is brilliant, her face hinting at so much even in sometimes seemingly expressionless moments. Babin provides strong support as a cross between a naif and a delusional fantasist. Red Rooms delivers scathing commentary as it takes a hard look at people obsessed with serial killers and their dark deeds.  

 

 

Dead Mail (2024)

 

 

With the astounding 1980s-set Dead Mail, cowriters/codirectors Joe DeBoer and Kyle McConaghy have crafted a highly unique film that has cemented a spot on my list of top 10 films for 2024. This enigmatic, mesmerizing feature is best served going in knowing as little as possible, so I will withhold several details that it is more fun for viewers to watch unfold themselves for the first time. After an opening sequence that sees a man with bound hands and feet crawling to a public mailbox to insert a bloody, torn note and another man knock him unconscious, we are introduced to local postal employees Ann (Micki Jackson), Bess (Susan Priver), and dead-letter investigator Jasper (Tomas Boykin), who discover the note and need to determine whether it is authentic or a hoax. We also meet eccentric and evidently well-heeled synthesizer enthusiast Trent (John Fleck) who, at a convention for the musical instrument, offers a partnership with keyboard technician Josh (Sterling Macer, Jr) to develop a new technology. Also key in this cast of characters is Norwegian computer expert  Renée (Nick Heyman). Dead Mail takes viewers on a nonlinear ride as it reveals the gripping and sometimes deadly interplay between these characters. DeBoer and McConaghy evoke the early eighties time period wonderfully without any trappings becoming a distraction, and the suspense and occasional moments of dark humor are all expertly timed. The ensemble cast members all give amazing performances, including one of the finest renditions of a villain in recent memory (no spoilers here as to who that is). The offbeat Dead Mail combines horror, mystery, and thriller elements in one highly entertaining feature, and should be considered a must-see for genre-film lovers.

 

 

Red Rooms and Dead Mail screened as part of the 2024 Overlook Film Festival, which ran April 4–7 in New Orleans. For more information, visit https://www.overlookfilmfest.com/.

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