#AIFF2023 Reviews: Red Rooms, The Promised Land

Red Rooms | Written and Directed by Pascal Plante

A creepy outlier from Quebec, this is not the serial killer thriller you may have come to expect, nor an outright exploitation horror — more a creepy character study. Kelly-Anne (Juliette Gariépy) is a whiz with numbers and makes some coin from modelling, living alone in a spartan high rise one-bedroom.

She spends evenings online and her days at the court case consuming Montreal at the moment — Ludovic Chevalier (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) is in the dock for having murdered three teens and videoed the mutilations for paying customers on the dark web. Also daily at the court is Clementine (Laurie Babin), in love with Chevalier from a distance and convinced of his innocence. But what is Kelly-Anne convinced of?

It’s sometimes  not clear the filmmaker really knows, and Kelly-Anne’s almost supernatural gift for hacking pushes the bounds of plausibility, but Gariépy is a magnetic lead presence, elevating the drama beyond a few script issues while the terrific cinematography, production values and score are never less than compelling. Weird to note the film has more in common with Steve McQueen’s Shame than any serial killer movie I could mention.

The Promised Land | Directed by Nikolaj Arcel | Written by Arcel  and Anders Thomas Jensen

What an entertaining pleasure this film turned out to be. It’s directed by Nikolaj Arcel, perhaps best known for the Danish period drama A Royal Affair from about 10 years ago, which also starred Mads Mikkelsen along with Alicia Vikander. This film is written by Arcel and the busiest screenwriter in Denmark, Anders Thomas Jensen, who did Riders of Justice and the only other Danish western I can think of, The Salvation.

That’s what The Promised Land is, too, a western, evoking epic pictures like Days Of Heaven while the plot is entirely straightforward. Mikkelsen is Ludvig von Kahlen, and like in The Salvation he’s a former soldier looking for a new start and a better standing in life — he swings a deal to do the impossible, cultivate a plot of heath in Jutland, which, if he succeeds in turning it into farmland, will earn him a noble title from the king.

He’s terminally taciturn, but he takes in a peasant couple who’ve escaped from under the boot heel of a local landowner. Said landowner is a real villain, refusing to recognize Ludvig’s claim to the scrub brush and making every effort to drive him off. Potatoes play a key role in this drama, but it’s really about ambition, social status and pride. It’s not about gunfights at the OK Corral, but Mikkelsen does go all John Wick at one point.

Mostly, though, he gives another of his exquisite internal performances — it’s a wonder to see.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.