Within Madness (2015) Review – Gripping In Its Realism



Directed by J.M. Stelly Written by J.M. Stelly
Starring Kaci Champion, Keegan Macy, Matt Story

73 mins - Horror | Thriller | Drama - Release date: 7 April 2015

Within Madness is disturbing in its gritty realism, and definitely not for the faint of heart. Essentially a one-man play, the film focusses on Donovan Summers (Matt Story) and his descent into obsession and madness.

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Writer/director J.M. Stelly has taken inspiration from the video diaries of Ricardo Lopez, aka, the Björk Stalker. If you look him up, you’ll find a fairly intelligent nut job who obsessed over the Icelandic singer, and in the end attempted to send her a mail bomb and killed himself. But watching Lopez’ videos on YouTube it’s easy to distance ourselves from him; he was a fat guy who liked to sit around shirtless and ramble endlessly into his video camera within the confines of his small, garbage-pile of an apartment.

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Stelly’s Donovan, however, is so terrifying precisely because he’s relatable. He’s perfectly average with his middle-class job as a physical trainer, his home, his car, his looks, and even his insecurities. He’s the guy we all strive to be. And even what aggravates him, such as the pasty whale of a neighbor mowing his lawn shirtless (a reference to Lopez?), are the things that aggravate us.

Other than references to Donovan’s mother, it’s not entirely clear why Stelly chose to show so much BDSM imagery in such a violent way. Don’t get me wrong, BDSM is a taboo subject, but if 50 Shades of Gray took BDSM three steps forward, Within Madness takes it five steps back. At this point, the majority of people have learned that BDSM is a consensual act and far less violent than once perceived.

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Whatever these glimpses of violence and torture mean to Donovan (no doubt it’s his perception of his relationship to his mother), and even if some of these scenes linger too long for no apparent reason other than to fill time, they are cut nicely into the story. And what’s also refreshing in this found-footage/docu-style film is the effects that were overlaid in order to make it look like it was shot on 16mm films as opposed to HD. However, it’s hard to believe, as a viewer, that Donovan was filming himself with a 16mm camera, and sometimes shooting himself with multiple cameras to achieve multiple angles. This fact breaks the film’s authenticity.

The film ends in a way that leaves audiences wondering what happened. This might work to the film’s advantage, amplifying post-viewing discussions.

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The Verdict:

If you’re craving a slow-paced character study that explores the darker side of one’s mind, Within Madness would be for you. There’s not much that’s overtly grotesque about it from a visual standpoint, but it’s still disturbing. The worst part is that Donovan could be you, your friend, someone you work with, or your neighbor.

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