×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Fatum: Room 216’

A haunting Dutch documentary that uses real footage from the 2010 case of Canadian Russell Williams to explore the nature of interrogation.

Director:
Ramón Gieling
With:
(English dialogue)

1 hour 14 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7617944

In January 2010, a 27 year-old woman by the name of Jessica Lloyd went missing from her home in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans. Her disappearance was feared to be connected to other recent crimes in the area, a fear borne out when, barely 10 days later, investigators were directed to Lloyd’s body by her self-confessed killer. The case is exactly the kind of thing the recently resurgent true-crime category thrives on and indeed there’s a 2012 Lifetime movie about it, and one of the surviving victims even testified in a documentary TV series. But the awkwardly titled, simply presented yet eerily engrossing “Fatum: Room 216” deals less with the crime itself than with the mechanics of the interrogation that led to that confession. It is a procedural in which the careful, clever application of by-the-book procedure is the unlikeliest hero of all.

This modestly scaled doc is remarkable for all the ways it does not adhere to the often sensationalist true-crime template. Instead Dutch filmmaker Ramón Gieling delivers a formally precise, gripping portrait not only of that old staple, the banality of evil (for the killer does indeed seem deeply ordinary), but also of the banality of the justice system that on this occasion, in the deceptively diffident person of Detective Jim Smyth, worked so brilliantly to bring him down. It all happened in the course of a single 10-hour, one-on-one inteview, in which no voices were raised, no physical contact made, and which the interviewee was free to leave at any time.

The film’s most compelling element, therefore, is the interrogation footage, which exists as a fuzzy split-screen of interrogation room 216 shot from three different high angles (thereby also giving us a study in contrasting male pattern baldness). Gieling selects sections with care, always marking them with the time, so we can know exactly how long it took this respected, married military colonel, generously giving his Sunday over to helping the police with their missing-persons inquiry, to be talked into talking: 4 hours, 44 minutes.

The most evocative addition to this found footage is the music, composed by Paul M. van Brugge, which Gieling films being played by two musicians. At first, these interludes are hard to process, but gradually they become much-needed respites from the hesitant intensity of the interview, while also gently echoing the duet interplay in room 216. And the melody itself — a beautiful, atonal, asynchronous piece in which a violin chills and a cello mourns — pays subtle, sorrowful respects to the victims, though this is not their story.

There are further flourishes that vary in success: the furtive shots of empty houses and gardens also have their meaning revealed as the film progresses, but Gieling’s insertion of quotes from “The Song of Songs” feels wrongheaded, and a little pretentious. These quotes, which are all about the nature of passion and the beauty of the beloved to the lover, seem to be trying to add depth to the psychological profile of the killer, when frankly, his pathology is far from the film’s most interesting investigation. It’s how Smyth gets him there, and where he goes thereafter that truly compels.

The dynamics of the interrogation are simply riveting. Russell Williams is an inherently likable guy, while Smyth’s manner is never chummy, just unfailingly polite. He makes sure to issue a companionable chuckle or a disarming “uh-huh” whenever Williams seems to be opening up. Otherwise, Smyth comes over as a mid-level bureaucrat with a manila folder, and a tendency to repeat things pedantically. His bland affability undoubtedly accounts for why Williams keeps talking, yet the control it must take Smyth to keep his body language relaxed and open, his expression unflinching no matter what horrors are being related, is borderline superhuman.

Rather like in David Fincher’s recent TV series “Mindhunter,” the moral question arises, “How can you talk to a monster like he is a man?” And here the answer is: “You do it when you have to.” It’s not comfortable to watch Smyth engage with Williams in such a personable way, but the haunting, absorbing “Fatum” understands the odd intimacy of this piece of superlative policework, in which there are no overturned tables, or games of “good cop, bad cop,” just two men talking in a room. There is evidence presented and hints are dropped, but it’s the relationship between them that really matters: The turning point comes when, having been addressed as “Russell” throughout, after a long, intense silence, Williams mumbles, “Call me Russ.”

Film Review: 'Fatum: Room 216'

Reviewed at Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Nov. 20, 2017. Running time: 74 MIN.

Production: (Documentary – The Netherlands) A Thinking Out Loud production in co-production with VPRO Television. (International sales: Thinking Out Loud Prods., Amsterdam.) Producer: Ramon Gieling.

Crew: Director, screenplay, editor: Ramon Gieling. Camera (color): Gieling, Goert Giltaij, Salvador Gieling. Music: Paul M. van Brugge.

With: (English dialogue)

More Film

  • WGA West Logo

    WGA Plans March 25 Member Vote on Talent Agency Rules

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America plan a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to implement tough new restrictions on how Hollywood talent agencies as operate as agents for writer clients. The vote comes as the guild is in the midst of pitched negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents to renew [...]

  • Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'Wandering

    Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'Wandering Earth'

    Global streaming giant, Netflix has bought rights to “The Wandering Earth,“ the smash hit film which is pitched as China’s first mainstream sci-fi movie. The film was the sleeper hit of Chinese New Year — it opened in fourth position on Feb. 5 — but climbed to the top spot and has not yet relinquished [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan's Hitman Drama 'Silver Bear' Gets Director

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan’s “The Silver Bear” finds a director, biopic “Running for My Life” is in the works, Fox is using new trailer compliance software and the 14-hour “La Flor” gets distribution. DIRECTOR ATTACHMENT More Reviews TV Review: 'This Giant Beast That Is the Global Economy' Berlin Film Review: 'Flesh [...]

  • Kevin Costner Diane Lane

    Kevin Costner, Diane Lane to Reunite in Suspense Thriller 'Let Him Go'

    Focus Features has tapped Kevin Costner and Diane Lane to star as a husband and wife in the suspense thriller “Let Him Go.” The two also collaborated on “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” as the parents of Superman. Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”) is set to direct his own screenplay, [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth Hulk Hogan

    Chris Hemsworth to Play Hulk Hogan in Biopic for Netflix

    Netflix is in the early stages of developing a Hulk Hogan biopic with Chris Hemsworth attached to star as the wrestling legend and produce. Netflix has obtained the exclusive life rights and consulting services from Terry Gene Bollea AKA Hulk Hogan. Todd Phillips, whose credits include “War Dogs” and “The Hangover” trilogy, is attached to [...]

  • Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant

    Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant Winners

    Swedish documentary filmmaker Anastasia Kirillova and “Negative Space” co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter are among the filmmakers who will receive grants from Rooftop Films to help complete their upcoming projects. Kirilova will be awarded $20,000 to finish her film, “In the Shadows of Love,” while collaborators Kuwahata and Porter will receive $10,000 for “Dandelion [...]

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s reveal follows Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing movies [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content