Dir: Franck Khalfoun, 2013
Frank is a demented serial killer who tracks young women, scalps them and brings his souvenir home to his mannequin store where he staples the bloodied hair to the plastic skulls. Tortured by head-splitting migraines and cruel hallucinations of Mrs Bates-esque mother, suddenly Frank finds friendship in the form of a beautiful, mannequin-mad photojournalist named Anna.
Maniac is viewed primarily through the point-of-view of Frank which is an effective tool in dragging the audience kicking and screaming into the mindset of a psychotic and emotionally disturbed individual. These hammy POV shots crop up frequently since 1960’s Peeping Tom but here is an unwavering insight into how a serial killer performs his trade that is just one of many unnerving aspects of Maniac. Khalfoun pounds the audience over the head with the upsetting nature of the character. Obviously the last thing this director wants to do is soft-pedal murder but the malevolence is so grotesque and misogynistic that it is downright sickening.
From the opening credits which involve Frank driving through Los Angeles, you can immediately ascertain the heavy influence that has been taken from 2011’s Drive (clearly the director thought Cruising would be too obvious an eighties horror to polish in such a fashion). The remake has been transferred from New York City to the City of Angels, infusing the film with a significant amount of gloss and volume in an attempt to highlight the brutality of the content. In what can also be accredited to Drive (but can also be argued as a tribute to the original film) Khalfoun employs that melancholic synth sound that is so iconic of the eighties, aspiring to the audible illustriousness of The Burning or Halloween II but instead resembling something that would be present in the darker scenes of The Neverending Story.
That Frank can so openly pursue distressed women through downtown Los Angeles is a creative licence bordering on preposterous and serves as only one of the fatal reasons why Khalfoun’s message loses its merit. Frank’s tendency to dwell on reflective surfaces seems too conceited a reason to show off Elijah Wood’s face and the character’s dialogue is so blatantly recorded off-screen that the moment he begins to speak, the audience might as well be sitting in the editing booth and being asked to empathise.
I commend Maniac for taking me completely out of my comfort zone and challenging me with something interesting but ultimately, the film has little to offer other than a sadistic, chauvinistic dream world where women are cattle, men are predominant and the police are essentially nonexistent.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆