New York City was a much scarier place in the 1970s and 1980s, and the films of those decades reflect that. New York-set movies over the last two decades have mainly glorified Manhattan in a much more positive light, but even though Times Square is more Disney than dirty these days New York can still be a nightmarish landscape of crime, fear, and insanity. In Other Madnesses, a film written and directed by first time filmmaker Jeremy Carr, the gritty, scary New York of decades past returns to haunt moviegoers.
Ed Zimmer (James Moles) is a Manhattan tour guide on an open-air bus. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of New York despite living a solitary existence in a small apartment. While studying material for his next tour, he repeatedly becomes distracted by the sounds of one of his neighbors having sex. He also has nightmares about a young girl who is being held captive somewhere — dreams that seem all too real when he sees the same girl on a MISSING poster. Even a burgeoning relationship with the beautiful and sympathetic Lucya (Natia Dune) cannot stop what appears to be Ed’s descent into madness.
Other Madnesses is an atmospheric and sometimes surreal meander through the nightmarish neon glow of the streets of New York. It’s been too long since a film depicted New York as a city of nightmares rather than a city of dreams. Ed’s gaunt appearance and Carr’s stark cinematography and frequent use of uncomfortably tight close-ups add to this creepy tone. The camera probes Ed as we try to figure out exactly who or what he is. Is he a vigilante? Is he a psychopath? Is he both? Is his justification for his actions all inside his mind? Ed is also followed by an older man only known as The Inspector (Ilya Slovesnik). Is he just part of Ed’s fantasy, or is there some semblance of reality to this mysterious stranger? And how is it that Ed sees what he sees in his dreams?
Ed appears to be deeply lonely — there is an odd scene when he calls a prostitute and tries to discuss literature with her — yet he seems unable to return Lucya’s affection. Truthfully, it isn’t clear why she is attracted to him — in fact, she seems downright repulsed by his obsession with serial killers. While Ed is the lead character and the film is told from his skewed perspective, there is no reason why Lucya couldn’t have been developed more to explain why she is so devoted to him.
Those who prefer films that end with all the mysteries solved will likely frustrated by a film so rooted in unanswered questions as Other Madnesses. There are layers here that are completely left up to the viewers to ponder. The chilling score and feverish editing, particularly during the dream sequences, add to the mystery.
In his first feature length film as a director, Carr has already developed a refreshing, throwback voice that sets him apart from his peers. It’s a film that is as psychologically challenging for the audience as it visionary. Any filmmaker who is willing to take on that challenge so early in his career is a filmmaker that should be on your radar.