Martin Doepner’s Rouge Sang (2013) sets itself in the deep woods of Quebec, New Year’s Eve 1799. We are introduced to a family of five who live a modest, happy existence. On this day, the father must venture into town. While the patriarch is absent, a group of British soldiers, insultingly called Red Coats by the Quebecois, appear at the household in need of shelter and medical aid as a snowstorm approaches.
The tension between the Quebecois family and the Red Coats, quite high already since the former want the latter out of their territory, explodes when the young boy of the family overhears the soldiers discussing and laughing about killing a “thief” earlier in the day. Further evidence suggests the wife’s husband is this thief. Before the dawn of New Year’s Day she must take her revenge.
The rest of the plot is a bit of a bloodbath as Espérance ingeniously takes killing into her own hands. The theme of the empowered yet ruthless female protagonist is standard for the horror genre, as Carol Clover and Linda Williams theorized in their texts on feminism and film.
By setting the film in Quebec in 1799, and by beginning with the family, we are forced to identify with them and ultimately despise the sexist soldiers. In a nod to the horror films of past decades, Doepner presents this despicable quintet of men, not unlike those in Straw Dogs (1971), Last House on the Left (1972), or I Spit on Your Grave (1976). Yet, unlike these violent features, after the wife has tidied up her killing spree, a plot twist allows us to reconsider the appropriateness of her violence, and more importantly, the cycle of violence in general.
The husband returns in the morning unannounced; he was also trapped by the snowstorm and stayed in town. The thief discussed earlier had robbed him of his goods, thus the soldiers’ possession of the husband’s horse and wares. Initially we are glad the thief received his due and we sympathize with the now dead soldiers; as we think more carefully about the events, no one should have been killed in the first place. A final plot twist which concludes the narrative drives this point home.
Rouge Sang takes place almost entirely inside the house, setting a claustrophobic tone; we want those soldiers out of the house as much as the wife and children do. The Red Coats drink heavily and celebrate the New Year – we can smell their drunkenness and we breathe in the filth of weeks and months campaigning in the deep woods. The settings, costumes, and make-up shine, each element contributing to the overall effect and our belief in Espérance’s seemingly justified violence. But it is a violence too quickly enacted, albeit cleverly deployed and expertly covered up. This much the film teaches us.
For its didactic conclusion, the uniqueness and realism displayed in the scenes of violence, the performances and mise-en-scène, Rouge Sang will one day be regarded as a classic of Canadian Horror Cinema.