RED ROOM * Ireland 2017 Dir: Stephen Gaffney. 95 mins
Red Room — uncompromising, uncomfortable and brutal, but is it worth it?
Red Room is the directorial debut of Stephen Gaffney, it tells the story of Kyra (Amy Kelly), a young woman snatched from the streets during a night-out and introduced to a world of savagery and brutal violence. Alongside her fellow captives, Lilly and Alison, she is forced to wait for her turn in the Red Room. Once here, their captors will dispatch them by a method chosen by the highest bidder laying down huge sums of money and watching across the dark web.
Red Room is brutal, uncompromising, and above all, uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it’s also not very good. The question of taste and violence in films is nothing new and likely the film’s distributors, Breaking Glass Pictures and studio Deep Web Films, would reference films such as Straw Dogs, Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes amongst other films, as movies that sowed the seeds of the Red Room.
The difference between those films and Gaffney’s effort is that in the case of the Red Room, the extreme violence is in service of nothing. Gaffney, who also serves as the film’s writer, fails to deliver characters that we really care about. The three captive girls are given extremely superficial surface characteristics and barely developed beyond this. As a result of this, when they are taken to the Red Room the brutality they are subjected to is shocking, terrible and empty. I felt little more than disgust watching the overly long, bloody scenes of
torture, which are to give credit well done given a limited budget.
In the better examples of the ‘torture-porn’ genre, characters are given some development so when they meet their fates, we can at least feel something. A good example of this is the fact that the first girl we see dispatched, we haven’t even been introduced to. She isn’t in the cell with our main characters, just appears to be dispatched. There are elements of the film that could work if a little time and space were just afforded to them. There is another captive in the house, Matthew (Eddie Jackson), who whilst also abused, is safer than the girls as his role is to operate the gang’s website and receive bids from the perverted voyeurs that fund the operation. Yet we see little of his turmoil, or any attempt to capitalise on the fact the gang need him to an extent, and he too is woefully underdeveloped. Likewise, the film could develop the relationship between the three heroines, showing how they become dependent on each other and the effect that losing a member of their triangle has on them.
With horror, there is an old adage ‘less is more’ and I can’t help but wonder what this film would have been like if Gaffney had locked us in that room with our three protagonists and allowed us to develop the dread of visiting the Red Room together.
In terms of the plot, the idea of shadowy buyers deciding the fate of their victims with money controlling the fate of innocent people is certainly an interesting one, but it has been done before and far better in the Hostel series of films. To make matters worse plot threads are simply left hanging at the end of the film. The true operators are never revealed to our protagonists and there is no real element to retributive justice doled out. At points, characters are introduced so matter of factly that I was left with the impression that I’m supposed to have prior knowledge who they are. I now realise what someone who has never seen a Marvel movie felt watching ‘Endgame.’ This may well be because this is the third film in a trilogy of films focused on the dark web.
On the plus side, Amy Kelly makes a fine protagonist and her outrage at one of the darker turns in the final third of the film is powerful and convincing. Likewise, Eddie Jackson is great as Matthew. It’s regretful these two don’t get more screen time. One scene a punter who has just witnessed a horrific beating and murder simply puts down his tablet and pops on the TV. The juxtaposition between this terrible event and his everyday mundane life, coupled with how desensitised he is to terrible violence is more effective than any scene of violence and torture in the film.
I left the Red Room with the distinct feeling that Gaffney simply wanted to shock me, and that in pursuit of this, he sacrificed things like plot, character development and tension to do it.
Review by Rob Lea