It’s been a long time since the now-not-so-mean streets of New York City have been depicted in such a viscerally disturbing manner as in Jeremy Carr‘s debut feature. Featuring a protagonist who bears no small resemblance to Travis Bickle, an obvious inspiration, Other Madnesses is a compelling, if sometimes frustratingly oblique, psychological thriller that boasts atmosphere to spare. The film recently received its world premiere at New York City’s First Time Fest, which marked its director as someone to watch.
A compelling and physically gaunt James Moles plays the central role of Ed Zimmer, a tour-bus guide who regales his customers with his encyclopedic knowledge of the city — despite the fact that he has never been to most of the sights he describes. Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the double-meaning phrase “I’m Crazy About NY,” Ed is a lonely soul obsessed with serial killers — he looks rather like Jeffrey Dahmer — and resorting to prostitutes after hearing the titillating sounds of a woman moaning in sexual ecstasy through the thin walls of his apartment.
Attempting an emotional as well as a physical connection, Ed fruitlessly tries to engage the hooker in intellectually stimulating conversation before taking out a wad of cash stashed in a copy of — what else? — Crime and Punishment.
Tortured by recurring nightmares, including one involving an abducted little girl whose face he soon sees on a “Missing” poster, Ed becomes a murderous vigilante of sorts, killing men who have committed violent crimes. Or maybe he doesn’t — it all may be a figment of his feverish imagination.
Much like the central character in Taxi Driver, Ed seems to be edging toward something resembling normalcy when he begins a relationship with the beautiful Russian tourist Lucya (Natia Dune). But it’s not enough to curtail his continuing descent into madness, and his encounters with a mysterious, heavily accented stranger (Ilya Slovesnik) who seems to have intimate knowledge of his proclivities only accentuate his paranoia.
Director-screenwriter Carr, who also photographed and edited the film, provides a tightly controlled atmosphere — a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that it apparently was shot over the course of six years. The stark cinematography (the film seems to become stripped of color during the darker moments), sharp editing, ominous musical score, disturbing sound design and extensive use of NYC locations add greatly to the overall effect.
The surreal-leaning screenplay raises more questions than it answers, but it features some genuinely arresting moments, such as when Ed deviates from his usual tourist-attraction patter to instead point out the scenes of horrific crimes.
Moles is terrific in his first leading role, managing the tricky feat of simultaneously making his character sympathetic and creepy. With its title — inspired by a quote from Henry Miller — displayed before the opening credits, Other Madnesses is a film that effectively gets under your skin.
Production: Crutch Films
Cast: James Moles, Natia Dune, Sheilah Smiley, Patrick J. Egan, Elissa Rose Carr
Director/screenwriter/director of photography/editor: Jeremy Carr
Producers: Jeremy Carr, Dawn Fidrick
Composer: Stephen Light
No rating, 102 min.