Brendan FehrLeading

Edge of Madness – Review

Thanks to Mr. M for sending this in.


Edge of Madness

Genre: Drama
Runtime: 99 mins

Cast: Caroline Dhavernas, Paul Johansson, Corey Sevier, Brendan Fehr

Directed by: Anne Wheeler
Written by Charles K. Pitts, Anne Wheeler (Based on a short story by Alice Munro)
Music by Randolf Peters
Country: Canada

In the winter of 1853, an 18-year-old woman staggers in from the woods to the Hudson Bay Company’s settlement at Fort Garry, Man., claiming that she has killed her husband.

What We Say
Bouncing back from the risible sex farce Suddenly Naked, Anne Wheeler delivers a straightforward adaptation of an Alice Munro short story set in 19th-century Manitoba.
In the winter of 1853, an 18-year-old woman named Annie (Caroline Dhavernas) staggers in from the woods to the Hudson Bay Company’s settlement at Fort Garry, Man. Scratched, bruised, babbling almost beyond comprehension, she eventually blurts out that she has killed her husband.

James Mullen (Paul Johansson), the Hudson Bay’s senior official and thus the law in these here parts, locks her up, has her attended to by the fort’s doctor (Currie Graham), and then gently interrogates her over the next few days and weeks. Is Annie’s husband actually dead? Did she really kill him? If not, who did? Eventually, Mullen heads out into the woods himself in search of the truth.

The story is told in multiple flashbacks that touch on several time frames, and this kind of filmmaking can be frustrating (see Ararat) or quite spellbinding, which is what it is here. Wheeler extracts strong and believable performances out of her key cast, which includes Brendan Fehr as Annie’s husband Simon and Corey Sevier as his brother George, while painting a picture of 19th-century pioneer life that you would never see in a “reality TV” recreation, or want to.

Wheeler shot the film on location at Lower Fort Garry and at a riverside in Minnedosa, Man., imbuing the finished product with a cold, bleak, mean verisimilitude. Life as a homesteader in those days could easily have driven a woman stir crazy, and for a while we wonder if that is the source of Annie’s obvious distress.

Dhavernas’s performance is especially impressive, as Annie’s life is one wretched day after another. Plucked from a lineup at the orphanage where she was living and learning to be a seamstress, she ends up on a riverbank, married to a man she barely knows, expected to work like a beast of burden all day building a log cabin or preparing meals, while sexually servicing the man at night. (Simon’s sexual demands are virtually indistinguishable from rape, and some of these scenes are mighty tough to watch.)

Wheeler deftly cuts back and forth between Annie’s stint in Fort Garry’s jail and her ordeal out at the homestead, building a sense of dreadful suspense as we approach the moment of truth.

Review by John TD Keyes