Donovan Summers, a seemingly normal man, begins creating a series of video diaries where he talks about his life, his past, and the darkness within his mind that he tries to keep hidden. Slowly, the walls of Donovan’s psyche begin to crumble and he is consumed by his madness.
Normally in our reviews we try to expand upon the plotline of a film in our reviews, but that’s not necessary with J.M. Stelly’s “Within Madness” as it is a stripped down, straightforward movie. Inspired by the real life home movies of Ricardo Lopez (the guy who stalked Björk), “Within Madness” is about a person slowly succumbing to their mental illness — going from relatively normal to sociopath/psychopath.
I’d say the best part of “Within Madness” is the concept itself. It’s movie composed almost entirely of these video diary segments of the character, Donovan Summers (Matt Story). A bold move by Stelly since there will only be a niche audience that can enjoy and appreciate a movie where it’s built almost entirely out of scenes of a character talking to the camera. There are short, graphic segments inserted in between that give the movie a bit more visual style and to make it a little more interesting as well. However, the real meat of the movie is Donovan, talking to the camera, and exposing the horrors that lay buried in his mind.
For me, my enjoyment for “Within Madness” comes from the appreciation of what it was that Stelly was trying to accomplish with his concept — in general, I think he succeed as well. Overall though, this is a middle-ground movie for me; I didn’t hate it nor did I like it. Again, the concept is what kept me engaged but it felt like there was something missing — that hook in watching the deconstruction of Donovan’s sanity. As it stands, “Within Madness” is kind of dry in that I didn’t get much out of the Donovan’s decline. Perhaps because there wasn’t much of a noticeable change in between his characteristics and what he was saying at the beginning to where he is at the end.
I also didn’t care for some of the choices in stylization for the movie. In the extended version, the movie is intended to look like 8mm footage — lots of scratches, dirt, and film reel effects are added. Where as the original version has mild video distortion. In regards to the extended version, it doesn’t look bad (although I never like “film filters” being used) but the 8mm style is out of place. For the intended purposes of “Within Madness”, I think something in-between the two versions could have helped in making the movie have a visual style that matched it’s concept. It’s a movie where a few passes through a VCR would have done wonders — giving it a genuine degraded video quality instead of cheap editing filters. A style choice I did enjoy was the insertion of graphic bondage footage in the extended version. Not because that’s a fetish of mine, but because it actually aided in the style and it also helped with expressing the mental state of Donovan. It was a good way of visually showing what was going on in the head of Donovan and his sexual frustrations.
“Within Madness” is one of those unfortunate middle-of-the-road kind of movies. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t like it either. It was just okay. There’s an equal amount of good and bad things to the movie, but I think the best thing is that it was made from a strong concept. For me though, there was something that was missing. Some substance, perhaps. Something that would have really gotten me invested into watching the mental breakdown of this character. Thankfully, Legless Corpse released both versions of the movie: the extended version (73 minutes) and the original version (57 minutes). It’s good to watch both since they are rather different, and I think somewhere between those two cuts lies that movie that could have made “Within Madness” a bit more memorable.