“The Madness Inside Me” is a lukewarm-at-best psychological thriller about a widowed crime victim who engages in sexually charged games with the man who killed her husband.
The added twist? Madison (Merrin Dungey) is a forensic psychologist. She knows the criminal mind, and learns a little more about it every time she visits an inmate she is counseling and evaluating for possible parole.
Writer-director Matthew Berkowitz opens with the aftermath of a murder, takes us back to set it up and then forward to see how Madison reacts when she sees the man (Devon Graye) who killed her husband and assaulted her.
But recognizing him in the police lineup doesn’t lead to her to identifying him for arrest. No. She has something more interesting in mind.
It begins with stalking and that leads to coffee with the killer.
“I can’t sleep because of you,” she confesses. Mr. Pitiless and Crazy-eyed is curious about her work, her success rate in reforming or “curing” a convicted criminal.
“How do you change someone?
But Madison has changed, and her story shows just how much this killer has gotten into her head and what that does to her psychologically and sexually.
Dungey, of TV’s “Big Little Lies,” “Star Trek: Picard,” “American Horror Story” and many other series (and the movie “Greenland”) has to make do with a script that shortchanges Madison’s grief and rather muddles our sense of what she’s going to do to fill up the void in her life, the rage she must feel for the killer.
There are erotic undercurrents to her reasons for getting to know this guy. But they don’t make a whole lot of psychological sense.
The whole sexual kick out of breaking and entering thing may be explained by the psychologist, but the way it’s handled drains much of the drama and secret, kinky thrills out of Madison’s experience and our experience of her experience.
Berkowitz’s story has plenty of promising threads and false leads. Madison is anxious to help a convicted killer (Scotty Tovar) out of prison, bears grudges against her in-laws, etc. Night club pickups, meltdowns at work, sexual acting-out all are introduced. But they don’t weave together in any compelling way.
Our writer-director boils this down to a two-person tale, but the characters and performances of them aren’t substantial or intriguing enough to pull us in.
Rating: unrated, violence, sexual situations, profanity
Cast: Merrin Dungey, Devon Graye, Jennifer Gelfer, Thomas Q. Jones and Anthony DeSando.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Matthew Berkowitz. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:29