Two cheerleaders, Jenna (Victoria Bloom) and Tara (Yohanna Idha), on their way to a exhibition befriend a pair of guys with car trouble, Chad (Andreas Vaehi) and Oliver (Max Wallmo). Together, all four become the target of an insane group of mad men who run them off the road. Once captured and tortured by the three maniacs, the small band of strangers caught in a shared hell must stick together to find an way to escape.
Madness is another stab at the hillbilly horror sub-genre, where a pack of backwoods, murderous psychopaths hunt and kill unsuspecting vacationers traveling on the isolated side roads snaking across the countryside. This Swedish addition brings very little originality to the genre with stereotypical lunatics sporting uneven facial hair, bad teeth and unhealthy social skills. The main bad is almost unique enough to be interesting; but, when they decide to outfit him with white sneakers, they make him more like a mountain-man-gone-wild frat boy. Accessories make the villain. And these villains use all the standard weapons, including machetes, axes and chainsaws. Its all been seen before and unfortunately the filmmakers don’t bother to infuse it with anything to make it stand out of the crowd.
The movie, filmed in Sweden, takes place in United States featuring American characters but featuring a Swedish cast speaking in English. The actor’s accents and the not-quite-right locations immediately set the tone for the picture. It’s a bit strange at first but after a bit it seems to fit the basic mood of the film. The actors, while a bit stilted and wooden, do a fine job with the two-dimensional characters they are given. Each of the heroes is provided at least one scene to show some range and emotion – usually reacting to the horrors they just endured. No one really outshines the other and they make an acceptable ensemble – anyone of them would have made as good a final girl or boy as the other.
The country bumpkin adversaries, however, are portrayed with mixed results. Only rarely do they come across imposing and menacing; much of the time the appear silly and are only scary because the script says so. Their inconsistent and often lacking portrayals really hurt the film and squander any of the potential tension the action would have delivered. While Madness has its fair share of faults, this is the most devastating. A film like this requires a strong villain and Aaron (Sonny Laguna), Bob (Jonas Wilk) and One-eye (Tommy Wiklund) all fall way short.
For a low budget film, the effects are actually pretty good. They’re effective, bloody and gruesome. Madness does not shy away from the red stuff. Unfortunately the film starts out with an unnecessary and offensive effects gag that derails the beginning of the film. Toward the end, however, during the final confrontations, the effects are solid – gashes, dismemberments and knifings galore. It almost saves the film, but it’s too little too late.
Having three directors (Sonny Laguna, David Liljeblad and Tommy Wiklund) with inconsistent styles is an odd choice and displays poor execution. Some scenes are really strong, well framed, well paced and promising while others are shaky, choppy and even contain a wholly different tone and grain. Its provides the film with disruptive transitions and noticeable shifts in sensibility. Thankfully, the film’s key moments are given the most attention and care. The final scenes show the most professionalism allowing the film to end on a high note. Throughout the film there are a number of keenly staged action scenes: a knife vs. axe battle, a chase scene through a dilapidated old house and a camera shot that follows an axe thrown through air. But many fall into the trap of having a decent set up with a weak payoff, such as the lake scene where a victim is tossed in the water weighted down by rocks – tense, up the end, then wimps out only showing a few air bubbles rising to the surface.
Madness is a difficult film to recommend. It’s too uneven and inconsistent to enjoy as a whole, while some scenes are entertaining. The script is way too tired to keep the average movie-goer interested and the awkward dialog and accents are challenging to keep up with. The worst aspect is that the psychopaths are unoriginal and underdeveloped never coming across as intimidating as the filmmakers would have liked. The film does have decent special effects and appealing, if unconvincing, heroic characters and ends on a high note with a solid 10 minutes or so of well paced action. The conclusion also benefits from offing the entire pack of killers offed in a believable and satisfying manner. For those who are curious, they might find enough to enjoy – there are certainly worse options out there to stomach.