Maniac caught my eye On Demand because of Elijah Wood. His eyes are captivating and creepy to begin with and they drew me in. I figured a movie in which he’s cast, as a creeper serial killer, “couldn’t be too bad.” It turns out I was mostly right.
We meet Frank (Elijah Wood) while he’s stalking a woman. Frank’s following a stranger and he’s making her uncomfortable. It turns out he’s been stalking her for a while now. He knows where she lives and he will get to her, in time. Just as his first victim arrives home, thinking she’s finally safe, Frank pops back up, dispatches her in a sharply gruesome and explicit fashion and that is your introduction to Maniac.
Frank works at a mannequin shop. He inherited this odd, dark, little shop from his mother. He restores vintage mannequins there and he loves what he does. One day, early in the morning he hears something moving around and clicking about at the front of his shop. He makes his way to the storefront and finds Anna (Nora Arnezeder) a random and beautiful, French photographer, taking pictures of his beloved mannequins. The two of them hit it off almost instantly.
Frank is over the moon that Anna is intrigued and beguiled by his mannequins. He is also very much intrigued by her. The relationship between Anna and Frank seems to be growing by the minute, just like his obsession with murdering innocent women that remind Frank of his mother. Nevertheless, the serial killer in him never goes dormant for too long. Eventually and consistently, he sinks into a fit of rage where he must kill in order to escape his past and the vicious actuality he creates for himself and his victims.
Anna is oblivious to Frank’s homicidal tendencies even after he gives her a necklace made out of hair. All she sees is an awkward, attractive and timid man. She likes him and she finds his work fascinating so she hangs out with him. All the while, we get Frank’s literal point of view as he courts Anna and kills others.
Maniac is Frank’s story. He’s a deeply disturbed young man who wants to be loved. He is desperate to feel a mother’s affection and attention, or maybe just a woman’s? He yearns for a pure and innocent love to quell the panic that is never too far from his surface. Maniac is a gruesome look into the last stop on a descent into madness from the point of view of the mad.
Maniac is a remake of a movie released in 1980 that goes by the same title. I’ve never seen the original and I’m not hurtin’ to see it now either. Maniac v2012 is interesting for several reasons, topping that list is that is that the movie is shot (in great part) from Frank’s point of view. This is cool on many levels, but it’s borderline headache inducing in spots. Nevertheless, I liked the use of the technique despite the disorientation.
Since this movie is shot P.O.V (i.e. First Person Shooter) style, Elijah Wood doesn’t get copious amounts of screen time. What we get are jolting images of disembodied hands committing unspeakable crimes against women in particular. Frank takes his anger, frustration and fear out on semi-anonymous women that don’t stand a chance against his dangerously intriguing and terrifyingly violent tendencies.
I’ll level with you; the shaky P.O.V. thing might get annoying and prevent you from fully enjoying the film. If you’re sensitive to this sort of thing, you’ll want to be aware of that going in. If you don’t mind when directors throw all kinds of tricks at you, in an effort to envelope you in the environment they’re manufacturing visually, then give this a go. The quirky nature of the filmmaking doesn’t distract so much that you can’t look beyond this aspect of the movie.
Elijah Wood delivered with a haunting interpretation of the title character, Frank. Since he’s using his hands in a lot of the scenes, you really get a sense of his nervous and odd social behavior. It’s so intense you feel the pain of Frank’s rejection, isolation and violation almost innately. In short, he pulls off the serial killer thing pretty well.
Nora Arnezeder brings us a likeable, beautiful and exotic love interest with Anna . She’s French and she’s a photographer so she’s a bit of a cliché, but since this is a French film it’s whatever. Anna’s interested in Frank because she wants to make a quick business deal with him. She wants to rent out his restored mannequins and plus, she genuinely likes Frank. She’s inexplicably drawn to him. Arnezeder is convincingly clueless, if not somewhat cruel as the French photographer. She does the job required of her and she’s not half bad.
Then there’s the violence. Sure, some of it is gratuitous, but this is after all, a horror movie, a slasher film to be exact. I was expecting a good bit of blood and gore, but I wasn’t prepared for the barrage of slicing and severing that would ensue after pressing ‘play.’ It was a bit much, even for me and I like that sort of thing. I suppose the violence is on par with what you’ll find in the movie Irreversible (2002). Irreversible was the only movie that I’ve ever had to stop and then resume watching, the following day. The violence in that movie is vicious, yet feels frighteningly appropriate. Something about Maniac gave me the same chills I got when I watched Irreversible so I suppose the violence was effectively in your face.
While we’re on the subject of horror movies I’d like to say that I expect any good horror flick to scare me. I startle easily so I fully expect to be scared sleepless when I watch a good scary movie. If I’m not, I’ll be disappointed. Maniac didn’t scare me sleepless so I was disappointed.
What Maniac did properly was give me a good wringing of the nerves. I was tense from the opening scene, all the way through to the closing credits. I was terrified and intrigued by Frank. I also sometimes felt bad for him, while simultaneously wanting to choke the misogyny right out of him. I might as well tell you again that the murder scenes were pretty graphic. There’s scalping and even a knife through the jaw. There’s no cutting away, there’s no imagining it for yourself; there’s ghastly imagery and shock value. It’s pretty awesome. Unfortunately, that awesome quickly becomes too much, when it’s constantly thrown at you like bloody confetti.
Even though I wasn’t scared sleepless, I didn’t feel like Maniac was a complete waste of time, I like what Franck Khalfoun (Director) made of his remake. The performances in this one are all fairly good. Wood is creepy and while I know he could have done more with this particular role, what he did was delightfully disturbing. If you’re into horror movies and like a good slasher, you should give this one a try it’s an interesting look at the descent into the demented.
Maniac (2012) – C+
C+ = This is a pretty good time and you should give it a whirl. You never know, you might enjoy it more than you think going in. It has its pitfalls, but overall worth the effort