Maniac directed by Franck Khalfoun (P2) makes its own name for itself despite being a remake of the 1980s William Lustig film. There are nods to the original but with some tweaking of the story by horror duo Aja Alexandre and Gregory Levasseur, a great casting decision and directorial flashes this remake sets it apart from its predecessor.
Frank (Elijah Wood) is the owner of a mannequin store that restores old mannequins; he also stalks and kills women. When Frank meets a photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder) who takes an interest in his work, Frank’s urge to kill comes into to direct conflict with his urge to be with someone.
Maniac takes place in Frank’s world, a world not unlike Travis Bickle’s world in Taxi Driver. It is sleazy, dank and depressing. From the very first camera shot to the last this is Frank’s place and he is just letting us in for a peak. The decision to shot the film from a mostly point of view style (I say mostly but I’ll get to that later) of Frank certainly gets you into Frank’s world quickly. Plunged into a nightmare straight away, Maniac never really lets up, even in the quieter times you somehow know that Frank’s hallucinations and crippling migraines are just around the corner.
Khalfoun’s choice to direct the film POV style works for the most part and provides some film geek style deconstruction of some scenes. For some the murders we get a straight POV style kill, which are very unpleasant to say the least, however with some of the kills, the camera seems to float away from the POV style to really show you what is happening. Some may call it out as not sticking to the POV rules but I think that since its Frank’s world, that when he kills he sometimes has an out of body experience so to speak, thus allowing the camera to capture the action from a different angle, this happens only a few times in the film but when it does it is very effective. The other thing the POV style does is force the audience to be part everything and every thought Frank has, every murder and every thought has a really creepy feel to it, making this uncomfortable viewing.
Wood and Arnezeder are fantastic. Arnezeder’s Anna is seen by Frank as some kind of salvation, wonderful work by the cinematographer Maxime Alexandre (The Hills Have Eyes, Haute Tension) brightening the look of the city every time Anna is on screen, it is a small touch but something that was clearly thought about. Woods is of course the real star of the film showing no fear in playing a freak (even more a freak than his Sin City character) and when you catch glimpses of him in a mirror it is hard to deny that Woods has embodied everything that is wrong with the twisted up character of Frank. Every nuance, the deliberate pacing of his words and the blistering intensity he manages to bring with him, Woods owns this film on every level.
The violence in Maniac whilst sparse is very impactful with every murder you feel as though you have been part of something truly awful. The violence is intermittent but when it does happen it is bloody, gory and brutal. Nothing is glossed over it and it is just laid bare for all to see. The killing of a girl in the car park is one of the harder things to watch considering you, the girl and Frank all know it is going to occur it is only a matter of when. As the murder unspools the urge to recoil from the screen is the strongest urge you will have in quite some time.
Maniac is an outstanding horror film, eschewing all out gore for intensity and atmosphere. This film delivers on creepiness and above all else on story. There is a reason for Frank’s deeds and as the film progresses you will know why and almost feel for Frank...almost. One of the great horror films of 2013, if any film bests this one I’ll be very surprised.
OUT NOW ON DVD/BLU-RAY
OUT NOW ON DVD/BLU-RAY
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