Thursday, 6 June 2013

[REVIEW] - Maniac

Maniac banner Elijah Wood's eyes in the rearview mirror

Director: Franck Khalfoun (P2, Wrong Turn At Tahoe)
Starring: Elijah Wood, America Olivo, Nora Arnezeder
Certificate: 18
Run-time: 89 minutes

IN SHORT: Maniac is interesting to a point but too repetitive for its own good. The gore and POV camerawork is downright disturbing though.

Maniac starts with an off-camera voyeur stalking a hapless young woman past midnight. The camera follows her from a distance, with the stalker presumably inside a car. Realising she's being followed, she quickens her pace and eventually runs out of sight. With an eerie confidence, the stalker remarks, ''I know where you live Judy, see you later". We cut to inside a dingy tower-block and the voyeur is now watching Judy from the shadows as she walks to her flat. Once at her door, Judy feels a presence, turns around and before she can scream, a long knife is plunged through the bottom of her jaw. Blood seeps out of her eyelids as the colour drains from her pupils and with another stealthy cut of his knife, the killer scalps his victim. MANIAC flashes up in a thick blood-red font and disappears from the screen.

I thought I'd open with a description of the title sequence because it sums up the film's tone perfectly. Maniac is a remake of a controversial 80's slasher of the same name. The 'maniac' in question is played by Mr Frodo Baggins himself, Elijah Wood. He's quit his Middle Earth day job and taken up murdering as a hobby. Wood is Frank, a deceptively angel-faced serial killer who scalps his young, pretty victims and stitches the hair onto his army of mannequins, which he keeps locked up in a secret workshop. Through flashbacks, we learn that Frank has his fair share of mummy issues. He used to share the workshop with his mother, who'd bring back gangs of men and do the naughty business right in front of her traumatised young son.

Woman being scalped by Elijah Wood in Maniac
If this picture is too macabre for you, skip the film entirely!

The whole 89 minutes of Maniac is shot from Frank's POV, although director, Franck Khalfoun, finds creative ways of using the camera with mirrors and reflective surfaces revealing Wood's identity. I thought the POV camerawork would feel gimmicky and cheapen the film but the cinematography is fantastic and varied. Although the subject matter of Maniac is bleak with some disturbingly brutal death scenes, there's also an artistic value to the film that makes it more than just a generic slasher. The soundtrack is brilliant and not too dissimilar to Kavinsky's work on the Drive OST. Driven by pumping synths and bass-heavy riffs it effectively evokes the dirty, seedy atmos of the city streets that Frank uses to stalk his prey.

Where Maniac really excels though is with its gore. The movie is written and produced by French gorehound Alexandre Aja (a man who had Jerry O'Connell's penis bitten off in Piranha) so the prosthetic and make-up effects are top quality. Maniac's gore is disconcertingly realistic (well I've never seen anyone scalped but I imagine this representation is on the money) and there were times I felt a little queasy whilst watching Frank go about his business. I've already mentioned the opening scene as a memorable moment but another horrifically vile scene that sticks in my mind see's Frank scalp a woman whilst she's still alive!

Elijah Wood staring at his reflection in Maniac
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the most fucked up hobbit of them all?"

If there's a weakness to Maniac, it has to be its plot and its character's. Once you've seen Frank stalk, kill and scalp his first three victims, events start to become a little monotonous. Khalfoun attempts to dig away at the character's psyche and childhood upbringing with the use of flashbacks and hallucinations. These are interestingly visualised, fluidly merging with Frank's present to create a jarring non-linear narrative but the actual content of these flashbacks is stuff you've seen before. As serial killers come, Frank is rather boring and generic. Elijah Wood conveys Frank's bottomless descent into depravity surprisingly well but the character isn't meaty or deep enough to give a damn about. And his relationship with the mannequins is only briefly explored.

I've been very complimentary towards Maniac and yet still given it a one time watch rating. The main reason is because I feel the movie doesn't have much replay value. It's a highly visceral experience with some truly shocking moments and with repeat viewings, the power of these moments will inevitably weaken. Also, once a love interest is introduced for Frank the film noticeably drags, losing some of its menacing edge until it comes full circle in a rushed but exhilarating finale. Overall, I believe Maniac has enough about it to entertain, and even surprise, most horror fans. Watching Elijah Wood act against his hero typecast is also another reason why you should check this out.


  1. I never heard much of this movie before, but it does have my interest. Even if it does become monotonus

  2. Good review though I loved this movie a little more than you did. I am totally in love with Elijah in Maniac

    1. Thanks for reading Nika! Elijah was brilliant, I'd love to see him do more work like this.




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