I warned you not to go out tonight
Just when it seemed safe to wander the streets again at night, a serial killer with a fetish for scalps is back on the hunt. Based on the 1980 cult horror classic of the same name, Maniac offers a fresh, vicious and grim look into the mind of a truly deranged serial killer, Frank Zito, evocatively played by Elijah Wood, still attempting to break free from his Frodo Baggins typecast. French director Franck Khalfoun, P2 (2007) has reunited with writer/ producer Alexandre Aja, The Hills Have Eyes (2006), to craft this unique rehash of a ‘trashy’ exploitation film, transforming it to a dark character study into the psyche of a demented mannequin store owner.
Shot entirely from the lead character’s perspective, Frank Zito is a withdrawn mannequin store owner who has taken over the family business after the death of his mother, Angel (America Olivo) , who moonlit as a prostitute. Seeing his mother bring home clients or being taken out with her on erotic escapades, Frank is left unable to enter into meaningful relationships with women, with his sexual instincts and desires manifesting themselves into violent urges that Frank externalizes as his mother’s will due to her neglect and abuse of him as a young child. Frank’s life transforms when he meets young artist Anna D’Antoni (Nora Arnezeder) who asks Frank for his help with the new exhibition she is preparing. As their friendship develops and deepens Frank’s obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has unleashed a long-repressed compulsion to stalk, hunt and kill, as Frank’s obsession leads him to murder and scalp women, attaching their hair to mannequins that he stores in his bedroom and treats as living people.
Khalfoun’s decision to shoot the film entirely from Frank’s point-of-view is a bold one and benefits the picture immensely, offering a very real and convincing look into the consciousness of this deranged young man. Elijah Wood The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), mostly seen in mirrors or reflections in intense character revealing moments, portrays Frank in a crooked and confused way, which really enables the audience to emphasize with him and somewhat root for this character, wanting him to make the right choices. Seeing the story unfold through the twisted mind of Frank also offers a lot of elusive scenes which demonstrate Frank’s broken and chaotic thoughts. Being at the mercy of this mentally disturbed character, the film takes us to some truly dark, violent and terrifying places, really giving the audience a front-row-seat in witnessing some cruel and vicious kills, which could be a little too graphic or close-to-home for several viewers. Nora Arnezeder, Safe House (2012), is also great as Anna, portraying this character with sensitivity and compassion as a woman who could have easily befriended Frank due to his subtle nativity and boyish charm.
As the entire film is primarily shown through Frank’s perspective, a majority of the film-making process involved closely working with Alexandre Maxime, The Hills Have Eyes (2006), the director of photography, making the feature a real marriage between Maxime’s camera work and Elijah’s performance. For a low budget remake, Maniac looks and feels very high end, with cinimatogropher Maxime once again teaming up with Khalfoun, both having worked on P2, and having been involved with Aja’s productions dating back to his breakthrough picture, Switchblade Romance (2003). Maxime really knows and understands this genre well being somewhat of a veteran and having worked with horror icons such as Wes Craven in the past. There is an enormous amount of detail in the films direction as Khalfoun constantly keeps things fresh, envisaging curious and innovative ways of presenting the world through the eyes of Frank. While looking very retro, without ever misleading audiences from believing this is anything but a modern day story, Maniac also sports a distinct ‘80s style synth score that is somewhat reminiscent of that heard in John Carpenter films from that era.
With an original revise on a run-of-the-mill horror film, Maniac exceeds the original 1980 forerunner in all aspects, transforming a tacky B-grade exploitation picture into a perplexing character piece that delves deep into the mind of an unhinged psychopathic predator. While certainly a little too extreme for some, as several unremorseful scenes will surely stick with viewers long after the picture is over, this is one of the better remakes of recent years. Though the film’s existence is entirely unnecessary, Maniac is a great addition to Aja’s Producer label and a pleasant surprise to those who expected a cheap-looking remake that barley deviates from its predecessor.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by S-Littner
Maniac is released through Monster Pictures Australia