Red Rooms (2023) Review
Red Rooms is an eight-episode web series revolving around a group of six people Hollywood producer Leilah Black (Brooke Lewis Bellas, Guns of Eden, The Second Age of Aquarius), Armenian hitman Alex Terzian (David Alpay, The Haunted, From), Republican Senator Sheila Larkin (Susan Lanier, The Hills Have Eyes, Area 51), former priest Stephen Bishop (Ricky Dean Logan, Cold Blooded Killers, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) and international mogul Ethan Campbell (Noah Blake, Nephilim, The Rebels of PT-218).
This rather diverse group wakes up to find they’re being held captive in an unknown location and about to become unwilling contestants on a Dark Web gameshow called “Live or Die”. The rules are simple, they will be asked questions about their alleged crimes by their unseen captor and if they don’t answer honestly they’ll die. At the end of the game, the one judged the most evil will be released, the rest will die anyway.
Now, this may sound a bit familiar, Dark Web torture films such as Amber Road and Death Count have been a popular subgenre for the last few years. However, writer/director Joshua Butler (The Vampire Diaries, Shadowhunters) does have a different approach to the subject that helps to set Red Rooms apart. Since the show is aimed at YouTube and similar outlets, the kind of bloody torture scenes these films usually feature wasn’t an option. Instead, it focuses on psychological means of breaking the captives down to reveal their sins and the connection between them.
Red Rooms was shot via video conferencing programs during COVID with the performers working from their own homes. The method fits the subject matter and the heavy colour filters help set it apart slightly from all the other shot on Zoom films that have come out. Still, the show would have come off better if it had been released sooner, before this kind of film became so common.
The other problem I had with Red Rooms, apart from Butler’s ludicrous claims to have witnessed online torture sessions, is the show’s episodic nature. Combined the eight episodes run just over an hour with individual episodes running from eight and a half to six minutes. Unfortunately, that’s including credits which leaves some of the episodes a bit lacking in actual content, a problem I have with web series in general.
When COVID-19 hit Hollywood and we were all in isolation, I called for a virtual production meeting and suggested we attempt to experiment by filming each character virtually from their homes, and our incredibly talented actors David, Susan, Ricky, and Noah jumped into this virtual creative experience with us and gave more than we could have ever asked for!Brooke Lewis Bellas
Something this short would have been better served by fewer but longer episodes or being filmed as a short feature. The time lost would have been better used to flesh out the story and add a bit more detail. It also would have avoided the frustration I felt sitting through the credit sequences over and over while watching it. The computer animation used in them is simple and effective, but seeing almost as much of it as I did story got old.
In the end, Red Rooms is a well done twist on a common theme that benefits from a good script and performances along with some nice post-production work. The format just needs tweaking to help bring out the plot’s full potential. If there’s a second season, which the ending leaves itself very open for, hopefully they’ll get that worked out.