My first thought after I was walking out of the screening was ‘scalping has never looked so artistic’. This ‘remake’ of Maniac certainly draws some of its inspiration from European arthouse horror, it really has that giallo vibe. It also draws inspiration from 70’s and 80’s exploitation, yet it aims to be more than just exploitation. This is not a straight remake of the original film written and starring Joe Spinell, but they do share some similarities. This film has not ignored its origins, there are some cleverly placed references to the original throughout the film which fans will enjoy. To be honest I wasn’t sure if the original Maniac could be remade for today’s audiences, and appeal to all sorts of genre fans. But they found a way, I was more than impressed with this film and it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting at all.
Elijah Wood plays Frank Zito, a very disturbed young man who runs a mannequin store. He stalks women, kills them, scalps them, then uses their scalps and clothes to create his mannequin girlfriends to suit his strange fetish which has emerged from his psychological problems. At first this is his escape, his fantasy to escape the scars of his mother’s mental abuse. Things get incredibly complicated for Frank when he meets and falls for artist Anna (Nora Arnezeder).
The film actually reminded me of a personal favourite genre film and one of the only films that still disturbs me Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. The main characters, the killers in both films actually shared some similarities. They were both unsuspecting, the guy next door, the quiet type that appears to be gentle. Most of the real serial killers this world has seen actually fit this type, they are unsuspecting for the most part and this fact is incredibly frightening. This works (at least for me) with Maniac as a very terrifying factor, as it did with Henry. Frank much like Henry also suffered abuse as a young boy at the hands of his mother, an overly promiscuous woman (played here by America Olivo) who seemed to have no care for her son and left lasting mental scars. The two characters are also challenged when they fall for someone, and this in both film brings consequences. They are however very different films, both are hard hitting and are told very differently, but both killers have this strange sympathy about them that feels wrong to experience.
Maniac is actually shot almost entirely from Frank’s point of view. We see him through his own eyes, and the only time we aren’t being show his POV is during his memories or fantasies. The killer POV shot is nothing new, we have seen it many times before (Black Christmas for example), however this differs greatly because it is only from his POV. We do not get scenes of his victims, we do not get to know them on any other level than what Frank sees. For me this approach worked, it was actually kind of terrifying because there was no escape from him. This is a gimmick but it was used and handled almost perfectly, it was shaped as a great narrative tool but perhaps it borderlines on being a bit too self-indulgent or pretentious. Seeing what the killer sees, being in his shoes is actually quite the confronting experience and I wasn’t expecting that to happen at all. I was really impressed at how well it was shot, it wasn’t shaky cam or hard to see anything, it was steady and flowed nicely. I never felt any motion sickness or like I had to turn away because of how it was shot, the violence on the other hand did test my limits and I can sit through just about anything. I have to give the filmmakers props for handling the filming successfully, it could have easily gone the wrong way but it didn’t. This is a completely emersive experience, a challenging and psychological one. This isn’t simply a slasher film, there is more to it than that and I really hope audiences can see that, and look beyond the just the violence.
I am pretty sure Elijah Wood really proved his range with his turn as Kevin in Sin City, and the prospect of him as a serial killer didn’t seem so far fetched. He has come a long way as an actor, and some how this seemed suited to him. His innocent look, that nature about him worked for this film, as I said a big fear factor is the killer being someone you wouldn’t suspect. He really gave it his all here, and I am sure he went to some dark places to give us this performance. He truly delivers the goods, and he is fantastic, I really can’t imagine the film without him. Nora Arnezeder is great, she’s a very lovely character as Anna, and we the audience along with Frank do start to fall for her. She’s beautiful and sweet, she shares Frank’s passion for the mannequin’s and this sparks his passion for her. She played it wonderfully, and this was a very well rounded performance. These two are the stars of the film, and this is where my attention stayed throughout. Frank’s victims are a mixed bunch, very different women but they tapped into their inner fears to make their scenes very confronting with him.
I thought that Franck Khalfoun handled himself well as director, he took a lot of risks that I think really paid off well. From the script (by Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur and C.A. Rosenberg) to the finished product this had high ambition throughout, an ambition that worked and this really is a unique entry to the genre. This is not a film for everyone, I can’t imagine my mother would be able to handle the violence for example, and its violence is against women which I know can be quite challenging and the POV makes it even more so. It is a horror film, a psychological thriller, a giallo, a study into the mind of killer and one that I would recommend. This will appeal to genre fans but even to those that aren’t, it really is a brave film to sit through and experience. You’ll either love it or hate in the end, and one thing is for certain it has one of the best opening sequences you’ll ever see!
David Law is a French photographer. His photographs of mannequins were used in the film Maniac. His work can be seen on his website http://davidlaw.fr.
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