Whether due to its harsh winter climate, its relative isolation, or some free-floating, primal madness endemic to the region, Wisconsin has produced a disproportionate number of legendary madmen, from Ed Gein to Jeffrey Dahmer, who shared Gein's weakness for consuming human flesh. But as Wisconsin Death Trip makes clear, madness, murder, and suicide need not be limited to the solitary mind of a lone Midwestern madman. Adapted from Michael Lesy's 1973 book of the same name, Wisconsin Death Trip chronicles, in bleakly funny vignettes, the marathon of perverse, violent, and frequently inexplicable acts of violence and insanity that gripped the seemingly cursed Wisconsin town of Black River Falls during the late 19th century. Drawn almost exclusively from newspaper accounts of the time, Wisconsin Death Trip captures, in dreamy, high-contrast black and white, the horrific fates of countless poor souls who came to the northern reaches of the Midwest seeking a fresh start, but fell prey to poverty, despair, and madness. Divided into four sections corresponding to the seasons, and augmented by modern-day documentary footage of the region which implies that its superstition and eccentricity remain, Wisconsin Death Trip marks the auspicious but troubling film debut of British writer-director James Marsh, who brings a Lynchian sense of surreal, haunting beauty to the film's grim black comedy. Discussing his motivation for adapting Lesy's book, Marsh writes on the Wisconsin Death Trip web site, "I wanted to convey in the film the real pathos contained in a four-line newspaper report that simultaneously records and dismisses the end of someone's life." For better or worse, Marsh achieves that goal, but in the process ends up turning the real-life residents of Black River Falls into grim human punchlines, and the languid, hypnotic Wisconsin Death Trip into the ultimate stoner film for discriminating Goths. Both a cheap holiday in historical misery and an unclassifiable, uncategorizable exercise in morbid beauty, the film vividly captures the homespun horror of small-town 19th-century madness, but leaves behind a lingering aftertaste of seamy exploitation.