Franck Khalfoun director of P2 along with Alexandre Aja (Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D), return to the big screen with their remake of the 1980 cult classic “Maniac”. I didn’t ever see the original Maniac film so I had no preconceptions on what to expect from a modern-day telling. The film stars Elijah Wood as “Frank” (Sin City, Lord Of The Rings) along with the beautiful Nora Arnezeder (Safe House,The Words) as “Anna” and America Olivo (No One Lives, Bitchslap) as Frank’s Mother.
Frank is a sociopathic and lonely man who own’s a mannequin shop in Los Angeles. After he helps Anna, a young artist with her mannequin exhibition, he develops a dangerous obsession that manifests itself in a deadly way. I’m a huge fan of Alexandre Aja’s work, I don’t think he directed this remake but he did assist with the writing process. It’s a tricky subject matter that has to be handled with absolute precision. Elijah Wood as Frank, gives his best performance to date. Along with his role as “Kevin” in Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City”, Elijah also played “Johnny Shaw” in a recent film called “Pawn Shop Chronicles”. The role here was tailor-made for Elijah. He turns in an unbelievably dark and creepy performance with a perfect tone and frantic breathing patterns, he sends shivers down your spine. This desired effect comes about not only through his performance but the camera work and score. The film is shot POV (point of view) style and it really works. They do it nowadays with first person video games, it’s very effective. You won’t get a closer connection to Frank then living in his shoes and experiencing what he is going through. Sadly the camera work does change a few times and you get some messy handheld stuff in the mix.
The score is also very particular. It’s appreciation for the original film is evident by several nod’s to things from the 80’s. A lot of heavily synth and bass orientated music is used. It reminded me a lot of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” soundtrack. Later the score becomes more european, with classical pieces that accompany the lighter scenes (for lack of a better word). People will notice the nod to the original film’s poster and artwork. This is during one of the murder scenes (keep an eye out). The violence is portrayed as realistically as possible and in some scenes it can be very brutal. The opening scene to the film is the most eerie and stands out for its abrupt climax.
There are no doubt still some issues with Maniac. I think the character of Frank is really underdeveloped. That may have been intended but it’s not amicable in connecting with the audience. The director has limited the potential with a fairly by the numbers script and hasn’t had imput into more development in the characters. The entire film needs more dialogue. I doubt this had more than 50 pages of dialogue for the entire running time. We get a little bit of insight into Frank’s childhood, through a few flashbacks and one or two very brief conversations he has. It’s obvious that his mother was an escort or hooker, I think? Either that or she was trying to find a man to settle down with and it wasn’t happening. By all accounts Frank doesn’t witness any violence and violence isn’t present in his life. Now this is not to say violence is the only thing that can cause one to be violent later on in life because we know that’s not true. I just find it hard to believe someone can be this delusional without any warning signs? I think plain and simply Frank’s mother needed to be present more in the storytelling aspect. We are lead to believe that she is the trigger to Frank’s violent tendencies
Moreover, I just assumed that Frank sees every women in the world as his mum. In some way, shape or form, various characteristics of the women in his life, either that he meets or he stalks, remind him of his mother. This is the catalyst in his panic attacks which then lead to his violent outbursts. That’s how I read the film anyway. I think some of the women he kills should have been screaming a lot more than they were too! If you feared that desperately for your life you would put on a turn, wouldn’t you? I also thought the last ten minutes of the film were very convoluted. I couldn’t make out what was happening with him turning into a mannequin? or something. I admired the prosthetic and gore effects in that sequence but was lost in the translation of the ending.
This really is a very well made film, for what it is. Majority of people won’t like this or its artistic merit. This is not a film for the mass of critics out there, however if you were a fan of the original or even if you haven’t seen it but like cult films, check this one out. It’s a well paced, unnerving and brutal descent into madness. Apparently the film has been banned in New Zealand, so lets hope Australia gives it the nod!
My rating for “Maniac” is 6/10