Edge of Madness  (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


Edge of Madness, also known as A Wilderness Station, is a quietly competent if decidedly non-commercial film about life in the Canadian wilderness circa 1850. It was filmed on location in Manitoba, directed by the same woman who did Better than Chocolate, an international hit that Tuna and I both liked. Sarah Polley was listed as a producer in the film's advance publicity, and she was to have starred as well, but Polley dropped out of the project for reasons unknown to me, and her role went to unknown Caroline Dhavernas. You've never heard of Dhavernas, but she is lovely and definitely has some talent. The role required a wide range of emotional states, physical challenges, a beautiful singing voice, and extensive nudity, all of which she delivered with the aplomb of a seasoned pro.

As the story begins, a young woman stumbles into a remote town from somewhere in the wilderness.. Half-crazed, starved, and frost-bitten from a long trek through harsh and frozen country, she spins a mad tale of killing her husband. The young man who passes for a constable in this outback hamlet must try to determine who she is and what, if any, truth resides in her story. The actual story is revealed slowly, inside her flashbacks, as he interrogates her.

It seems that she was a good and talented student, pretty and sincere, at an orphanage school for girls when she was chosen by a pioneer to be his bride. Although she was originally ecstatic about a chance to begin a life and start a family, her husband turned out to be an emotionally distant man who wanted a wife for the value of free labor, and to act as a release for his violent sexual urges. She therefore found herself trapped in the middle of the wilderness, isolated from human society, with a brutal monster.

The young investigator was torn by his responsibilities. The woman had already confessed to actions which clearly constituted premeditated murder under the law. She had waited until her husband's back was turned, then clubbed him over the head with the biggest rock she could wield. Yet the constable and everyone else could see that she was a gentle and good person who was only doing what must have seemed like the only thing she could have done to escape her life of involuntary imprisonment. In order to further accentuate the helpless of her predicament, the story adds a sub-plot about a local man who tried to rape her while she was in her cell, only to be foiled at the last minute by the constable.


Caroline Dhavernas spends a great deal of time naked on screen, being bathed, or changing clothes, or being forced by her husband into submission, or making love to her brother-in-law. Her buns and breasts are exposed several times, but the exposure is subtle, appropriate, and not at all sensational.

The film would have been much better if it had decided to follow that excellent premise through to the end, because at that point it was standing very solidly on the kind of profound moral ground normally reserved for Kieslowski, asking the audience to determine exactly what was "right" in this context. She was in fact guilty of murder, but who among us could cast the first stone. Who could prosecute her after knowing her predicament? And if a society does prosecute and hang such a person, what does that say about the value of its laws and institutions.

Unfortunately, the director was not Kieslowski, and her source material was not that profound. The story took two easy cop-outs. First, the girl turned out to be pregnant, thus saving her from the gallows. Second, and far more expedient, she turned out not to have committed the crime at all, thus completely resolving the moral dilemma without ever confronting it, and freeing the character to pursue her life and fall in love with the gentle and honorable constable.

not yet available on home video

In essence, although it is a small Canadian film, it managed to create a Hollywood ending. Even so, the yarn wasn't bad, to tell you the truth. I think the story gave a believable account of life in those times and the motivations of the various characters, but it had profundity in its grasp, and let it go.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, about equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, it's a C. A sensitive story of life in the 19th century wilderness is not likely to garner a mass audience, and the cop-out ending is not likely to please the arthouse audience, but it is a sensitive and watchable little yarn.

Return to the Movie House home page