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Review: ‘Mad?’ explores a woman’s psych-ward struggle with experimental verve

Suzanne Bertish in a scene from “Mad?” Credit: Pilgrims 7 Corporation
Suzanne Bertish in the movie “Mad?”
(Pilgrims 7 Corp.)

Psych ward-set character study “Mad?” is the formally experimental quasi-sequel to director Saskia Rifkin’s 2017 black-and-white debut “Can Hitler Happen Here?” Both efforts depart from screenplays by Catherine May Levin and feature 4:3 aspect ratio as preferred visual format.

Suzanne Bertish, exuding a Frances McDormand vibe, plays litigious elderly artist Miriam, who, despite ferociously professing her sanity and decrying governmental infringement of her civil liberties, will spend 28 days trapped in a geriatric facility to determine whether she is mentally incapacitated. Animosity with roommate Judy (Barbara Rosenblat from “Orange Is the New Black”) and her assigned caretakers raises tensions throughout her ordeal.

Swiftly thrusting its leading lady into a cacophony of noises, voices and other dubious sensorial stimulations, “Mad?” effectively procures a disorienting experience for the viewer, even if its nearly unintelligible thematic intentions get caught up in rambling speeches and hazy, hyper-sexualized episodes alluding to Miriam’s perceptions of those around her.

Rifkin’s crafty determination to embellish production value constraints with campy transitions and an eerie use of colored light is commendably spirited. Ultimately, however, its aesthetic ambitions trample the substance that occasionally shines through.

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Read as a female-driven take on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by way of Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” with hints of Michel Gondry’s tactile creativity, “Mad?” pales in comparison to those references. Seen as a potent exhibit of a budding, yet unrefined independent filmmaker, it’s curiously palatable.

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‘Mad?’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes

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Playing: Starts June 21, Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena

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