Directed by: Franck Khalfoun
Written by: Alexandre Aja, C A Rosenberg, Grégory Levasseur
Starring: America Olivo, C A Rossenberg, Elijah Wood, Gregory Levasseur, Liana Balaban, Nora Arnezeder
(18) Running time: 89 minutes
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Writers: Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur, C.A Rosenberg
Starring: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Liane Balaban, America Olivo
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
The majority of genre fans will tend to agree that remakes are not very necessary, and those same people will complain that very few people have original ideas left. I tend to agree up to a point, and while I am not one to champion remakes, I do enjoy those that inject a bit of originality, something new and something as good as what we have here. Maniac is certainly not the film people were expecting to get the remake treatment: released in the early 80’s, the cult film has a dedicated following of those who loved its depravity and violence, but the film never reached the heights of, say, The Hills Have Eyes or Piranha. So, you could argue that many genre fans will be witnessing this for the first time, and it would be fair to say those who enjoyed the original will also be seeing a new, dare I say it, improved or updated version. This is not a remake for the sake of remaking: this is a remake made with passion, love and respect for its original source, and a cunning plan to give the horror genre something new, fresh and shockingly upsetting.
Director Franck Khalfoun does not exactly have a proven track record with horror, with only two films behind him (the weak P2 and non-horror Wrong Turn at Tahoe) you could argue just how this guy was involved in the first place. However, on the evidence of this, we will be hearing a lot more from Khalfoun I can tell you. Yes, French director Alexandre Aja is involved as writer and producer, but it is Khalfoun who brings something new to the table here, and Maniac is a cold, disturbing and incredibly upsetting piece of gut wrenching horror that is most definitely not for the squeamish. Along with Khalfoun’s fresh take on the serial killer genre, we have a surprise in store thanks to a terrific, and unforgettable performance by Elijah Wood as serial killer Frank. He owns a mannequin shop, and he is not exactly right in the head, far from it in fact. See, Frank has had a troubled upbringing: his Mother (briefly played by America Olivo) was a prostitute and so he spent his days being neglected, and watching his Mum have sex with strangers. This has left him unable to have a relationship with anyone, be it friendship or other, and when he does interact with another person, it is not long before he becomes paranoid (shown in an exceptional scene in a restaurant when everyone pauses while starring at him) and suffers migraines (again, terrifically realised thanks to a shaking, blurring camera). Frank goes through life wanting to find someone, but he simply cannot do it, until he meets student artist Anna (Arnezeder), a young woman who Frank first meets while she is taking pictures of the mannequins in his shop window.
You can probably guess that things do not go as well as one would hope, but the story is the least important aspect of Maniac. First and foremost is Khalfoun’s decision to film Maniac almost entirely from the point of view of Frank, and this gives Maniac a refreshing and uniquely unsettling level of tension. Like it or not, we become the killer, and we are right there with Frank as he slaughters young (and old) women in breathtaking fashion. This is where Maniac gets the majority of its power, because we don’t get the chance to look away, and even more disturbing is when we glimpse Frank in a mirror, or a reflection: his cold, staring, almost unfeeling face starring expressionless, completely lost in this world, and with no hope of a way out. Becoming Frank allows us into the mind of a killer like never before, and with Wood’s performance being so chilling, this makes Maniac one of the most unsettling and disturbing horror films I have seen in quite some time, and with this being the uncut version, I would imagine the BBFC have a field day with this one!
Add to this the fact that Khalfoun has chosen to use mostly dark or faint colouring, and even gives the film a slightly 80’s feel (the opening music and title writing is superb), Maniac feels depraved, and you will come out of it feeling violated. You are there for every horrific kill and, like a real killer, you stalk your prey while hiding behind walls or under cars and this really takes the viewer on a journey into places you really do not want to go. The kills are horrific: an achiles heel is sliced in look away brutality, a knife is forced up through another victims throat, one of the most brutal stabbings I have ever seen takes place, and we experience everything. Frank collects his victims hair, and we have to watch every scalping whether we like it or not, and they are nasty. Khalfoun also plays homage to the original films poster in a brilliant display of his POV camera work and a reflective image.
As I said though, Wood gives an unforgettable performance, and his first words in the film “please don’t scream” will send shivers down your spine, and they will not leave, not even when the film has finished. Wood is on the edge, screaming in private for someone to “leave them alone!!!” as he watches his collection of mannequins. He screams an awful lot: “I HATE YOU!!!” he desperately screams, and in a strange way you almost feel sorry for him. Seeing his dirty finger nails, and constantly cut hands gives the impression that this guy really doesn’t know how to look after himself properly, and watching as he scrubs his hands gives the impression that he simply has to do what he does, but doesn’t enjoy it. The film is ultimately about Frank wanting to fit in, and seeing himself as a mannequin leads to the chilling conclusion that he believes the mannequins are real, and he believes that is what he is, and he has journeyed so deep into this bizarre world that there is no way out. Seeing a man on the edge like this is one thing, but actually seeing through his eyes is something entirely different. There is so much good stuff here I could go on all night.
However, it is time to wrap up, and so what I will say is that Maniac will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. It might be too arty for the gorehounds, and it might be too brutal for the arthouse crowd, but those in the middle who want something different, who have a deep respect for horror and the dark horrible places it can take us, will find a lot to like. I can’t really say you will enjoy it as this is an onslaught of violence and horrific, disturbing scenes I wouldn’t wish on anyone. You will come out of the cinema very shaken, very upset and extremely disturbed, and it is very likely that Maniac will get under your skin and wedge itself in the back of your brain. However, you cannot fault the sheer determination of all involved to take their audience places they may not have been before, and for that reason alone Maniac demands respect. This is one of the finest, coldest and upsetting horror flicks you are likely to see all year, a magnificent achievement, and a terrific journey of savagery and madness that will test your human spirit, and put your nerves through a fucking grinder. You have been warned!