“Nothing is what it streams to be…”
The internet is a wild place, with corners so dark they can only be accessed using a VPN and The Onion Router (TOR). Anonymity in these corners is mandatory because this is where one searches for and participates in the most depraved activities humanity can conceive. This is the known as the DarkNet or Deep Web, the place where “Red Rooms” are rumoured to exist. Red Room websites typically charge viewers untraceable cryptocurrency to watch and comment while someone live streams the torture of a victim. Viewers are sometimes asked to make suggestions or vote on what the torturer should do next, and the highest bidder wins. Proof that these websites are genuine is spotty at best, with most accounts sounding more like the retelling of urban legends than first-hand confessions from viewers who paid to watch someone’s demise. Writer/Director Joshua Butler (The Vampire Diaries, The Magicians), though, watched some archived footage while in pandemic isolation and was inspired.
Red Rooms, season one (2023) is an 8-episode limited horror/thriller web series, built to look and sound like a real red room reality show website that is hosting its first “game”. Five horrible people have been captured and are being held in separate locations, handcuffed, chained, bound or drugged into complacency. After two days with no contact, the off-screen host finally communicates with them through speakers, watching them all on cameras from a remote location. They are all told that they will be asked a series of questions that they must answer truthfully, or they will die. As each episode progresses, the contestants twist under the host’s psychological and verbal torture and their sins are revealed.
Hollywood producer Leilah Black (Brooke Lewis Bellas, Psycho Therapy, Ms. Vampy), hitman Alex Terzian (David Alpay, The Vampire Diaries, The Borgias), Senator Shelia Larkin (Susan Lanier, The Hills Have Eyes), former priest Stephen Bishop (Ricky Dean Logan, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) and businessman Ethan Campbell (Noah Blake, Mystery Men, Teen Witch) are reluctant to admit their crimes, but as the host works more details out of them it becomes clear that their crimes are connected. In episode 7, the audience is asked to vote for who is the evilest of them all, and that person gets to live.
The episodes are short, coming in at 5 to 6 minutes each (not including the front and back matter), and Butler uses the time wisely, giving the viewer just enough information to make them immediately press play on the next installment. They’re fast-paced and progress well, making them both enticing and anxiety-inducing. Red lighting washes over each scene giving the actors an already eerie setting to devolve psychologically in, and the grainy webcam lens lends to the authenticity of their captivity. Gore is not necessary for these red rooms; their guests are verbally stripped of their false dignity and their truths reveal that they are monsters who deserve what’s coming. Ricky Dean Logan as disgraced ex-priest Stephen Bishop delivers an impressive performance as he visibly crumbles under the host’s torture, and David Alpay’s portrayal of an Armenian hitman was so believable that it makes one wonder what this actor has seen in real life.
The all-star cast features Scream Queen Brooke Lewis Bellas, and it’s her production company Philly Chick Pictures that produced this project. In an interview with Red River Horror Podcast host Joe Zakrzewski (ep 87), Butler said that he and Bellas had been collaborating on a different project when the pandemic forced everyone into isolation and Hollywood was put on pause. Bellas, frustrated by her inability to work, suggested that they attempt the world’s first production filmed via Skype and screen record. Together, they recruited the cast and sent out the scripts. Butler directed each actor remotely and filmed them through Skype, which is why the series looks so authentic: it really was filmed on webcams. With the social distancing limitations and a microbudget, Butler and Bellas found a way to make it work.
The result of this collaboration is sure to garner a cult following from fans who want “realistic horror” viewing experiences that feel like something just to the left of found footage. Following the success of Skinamarink, the micro-budget indie that was leaked to YouTube 2 months before its theatrical release, Red Rooms scratches the same growing itch in the industry to take horror to a new level. It is immersive, realistic, scary, and served in bite-sized pieces that viewers will want to binge in one sitting.
Red Rooms episode 3 premiered at FirstGlance Philidelphia Film Festival in October 2022, and the entire series is now streaming on Deep C Digital in honour of Women in Horror Month. It will be coming to all major streaming services in the near future, but you can watch it here first:
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Kate’s love of all things dark began as a child and deepened when she realized what being an adult meant. She was born with a pencil in her hand and loves nothing more than writing horrific stories to tantalize her inner demons. Kate lives in Hamilton, Ontario Canada with her husband and her boys, stirring up trouble wherever she can.