Film review: Maniac

This was my debut, originally posted here for The University of Sheffield (ForgePress) on 16/03/2013

Maniac is a story about a highly disturbed shop owner Frank (Elijah Wood) whose obsession lies with restoring mannequins. How does he do it? With the scalps he brutally slices from women’s skulls after stalking and murdering them, of course.
It is fair to say this film is not for the faint hearted. The gore taps deeply into the involuntary disgust reaction we all seem to have as it is incredibly realistic visually and takes place within plausible settings – the vicious stabbing to death in a car park especially so. The film is shot through Frank’s eyes so not only do we have a front row seat to the horrific violence we also get to be inside the mind of a serial killer. We see his delusions and hallucinations, which include creepy scenes of mannequins coming to life and flashbacks to childhood where we see his mother have sex with countless men. This insight into why he has this disturbing relationship with women allows us to see vulnerability in the protagonist that most horrors neglect to do. He is still human after all, which is what makes it so terrifying; there is no horror mask or deformity that dehumanises him in order to get a cheap scare, just a realistic portrayal of a disturbed human psyche that is hard-hitting and terrifying in its own right.
The film develops at a fast pace and we are introduced to Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a woman Frank finds himself starting a genuine relationship with. To see him struggling with his urges and his determination to be normal around her is the meatiest part of the film and the will he/won’t he hurt her question leaves the audience on tenterhooks whenever they star in a scene together.

At one point they go to see The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, a classic black and white horror where a murderer is astounded by the beauty of one of his victims and has trouble deciding whether or not to kill her. Here we start to see that this film is not made purely for thrills but is a horror fanatic’s wet dream with subtle references and symbolism going on underneath the surface. This adds to its brilliance and is a breath of fresh air from shallow gory films like Saw where plot, characters and believability are undeniably deficient.

The only fault one could see with this film would be the few random non-POV shots (not including the flashbacks) that seem to slip in needlessly; you are suddenly brought back to reality and reminded you are in a cinema seat, taking away from the built up tension. However if this is the only noticeable fault the film doesn’t have much to worry about.*

Maniac stays true to the original, a rare treat for those who watch both. Notably it keeps the same locations of the original murders, the same heavy breathing feature, the same powerful monologues and most importantly the same eerie synth musical score that defines the 1980′s film. The new direction Franck Khalfoun has taken with the POV angle has improved it tenfold, increasing the opportunities for a build-up of pressure and opening up a whole new level of exploration into Frank’s character. The surprise casting of Wood as Frank is a far cry from the original Joe Spinell, (a middle-aged burly man with a handsome moustache), but Wood manages to carry the film and strike fear into the audience with his mannequin like posture and unblinking eyes, not forgetting his hair-raising conversations with the mannequins that could easily have gone from scary to funny with the wrong actor.

Simply put, if you like horror, you’ll love Maniac. It is chilling, sincerely disturbing and will probably mean you’ll never look at mannequins or Frodo Baggins in the same way again.


*Update: The non-POV shots in the film are used by Khalfoun to portray out-of-body experiences serial killers claim to have during the act of murder.