This film adaptation of Michael Lesy's 1973 book takes a look at the sordid and disturbing underside of life in a small Wisconsin community in the 1890s. In the early 1970s, Lesy discovered a large collection of curious photographs from Black River Falls, Wisconsin, taken near the end of the 19th century, and began doing research on the town in hopes of learning the story behind them.
Lesy was startled by what he learned; over the course of a decade, Black River Falls fell victim to a severe diphtheria epidemic, the local economy collapsed following the shutdown of a mining business, a serial arsonist terrorized the community, a lunatic claiming to act under God's orders held 26 people hostage at the local church, two children murdered a farmer, a number of infants were abandoned or killed, and an undercurrent of violence and madness seemed to taint all aspects of the town's history.
Using both the original photographs and silent recreations staged by director James Marsh (accompanied by narration from Ian Holm), Wisonsin Death Trip attempts to recreate the disturbing qualities of the photos and news clippings that formed the basis of Lesy's book. The film also features an original score by turntablist DJ Shadow.