Friday, May 3, 2013

Maniac (2013)

One of the main reasons I actively pursued a press pass to C2E2 was because I wanted to see some advance film screenings. I always read of awesome sneak previews being held at SDCC and other major cons, so I didn’t want to miss out just in case some super cool flick was being shown in my hometown. There was one screening, Maniac, which is a remake of a schlocky slasher film from 1980 (which I’ve never seen). I wasn’t too enthused by this as I was expecting something epic like Iron Man 3, but I ran with it as disappointing as it may have been.

Lonely and disturbed psychopath Frank (Elijah Wood) refurbishes antique storefront mannequins by day and stalks the streets at night for female victims he intends to scalp and add to his collection. When he meets young photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder) he falls in love for the first time, but how long can it last when you have a taste for murder?
Here’s the weird thing about Maniac… while it’s classified under the gory horror genre it’s actually an extremely interesting and horrific character study. Frank is one truly effed up dude thanks to his whore mother who would bang johns right in front of him at the most inopportune times (the sidewalk, his bedroom, etc.), and even though he is performing some despicable acts on innocent women you still manage to feel sorry for the poor guy. It takes talent to pull that off and writers Alexandre Aja (High Tension, Piranha 3D, Mirrors, The Hills Have Eyes) GrĂ©gory Levasseur and C.A. Rosenberg do so incredibly well with their clever screenplay.

What makes this movie kind of amazing is the way director Franck Khalfoun (P2) decided to shoot the narrative – from the first person point-of-view of the lead character. Watching this serial killer murder all these women through his eyes is more than a little disturbing, especially during the first kill at the top of the film. It also makes the movie extremely immersive and works wonders to pull you into the story regardless of how manipulative it can be once in a while. Total props to cinematographer Maxime Alexandre for pulling it off with no visible flaws. 95% of the time we only hear Elijah Wood’s voice as he talks to various people, both physical and imaginary, and only see him in person a few times when he is looking into a mirror or becomes disconnected from himself as he kills another victim. Khalfoun does have a tendency to get a bit arty at times and it feels slightly out of place amidst all the scalpings and violence, but I will give him props for at least attempting to elevate the film above what for all intents and purposes is just another standard horror flick.
Elijah Wood, regardless if the audience sees him or not, is quite good in this uncommon bit of casting. He plays the victim of his own mental anguish (he scalps women because the only happy memory he has of his mother, played by America Olivo, is when she would let him brush her hair) just as well as he sells the brutal violence his character is prone to. It was a little jarring to know that Frodo Baggins was carrying out all these disgusting acts, but I have to give credit where credit is due. The dude takes risks and this one paid off.

Co-star Nora Arnezeder is decent as Frank’s ignorant love interest Anna. She isn’t written very well and for some reason latches onto Wood’s creepy character a little too quickly, but it is easy to see why he fell for her immediately. She’s incredibly adorable and methinks that was a ploy on the part of Khalfoun to make the audience fall in love with her as well. It worked.

And yes, there is plenty of gore splashed around here. Some of the scalpings are quick (the opening kill), some are slow and drawn out (the internet date) and all are hard to watch due to a realistic blending of practical and digital effects. I’ve seen pictures of how the make-up FX by Tom Savini were pulled off in the original film in Fangoria magazine and online sources. It was primitive by today’s standards but it got the job done as far as I can tell (the shotgun blast to the head looked rad), but everything here is an improvement.
Unfortunately some of the dialogue is absolute garbage and ruins the effectiveness of certain scenes. For example, during the finale, which is supposed to be super serious and frightening, hearing Elijah Wood repeatedly saying “I came from across town to be with you in your time of need” had the exact opposite effect on me. I giggled at his awkward delivery and how lame it sounded. Pretty much everything that came out of the mouths of the victims sounded unrealistic for someone in their situation and the acting is pretty bad from them as well.

The script also likes to manipulate the audience into feeling sorry for Frank. While some of the empathy I felt for him was justified (his mother was a horrible, horrible excuse for a human being) I also felt that I shouldn’t be feeling the same way when he kills someone. Usually Frank apologizes to the victim, cries or tells them they made him do it. I felt dirty. Maybe that was the filmmakers’ intention all along. If that was the case they succeeded.
What I really would like to complain about is the overall length of the film. I think it just barely hit 70 minutes! I can understand not wanting the audience to stay in the world that the film creates for two hours, but if I had paid to see this I’d feel like I was ripped off. The ending is also abrupt and jarring. Don’t get me wrong, I understood perfectly what was going on (it’s a little cerebral), but I think it was handled in a haphazard way and rushed to its conclusion.

All in all I enjoyed Maniac regardless of all of the flaws and issues I might have with it. Connecting with someone and fleetingly attempting to reclaim some golden memory from your youth can be traumatizing for some people.  This movie goes to the dark side and brings the audience along for the journey. I needed a shower after watching it since it really got under my skin (no pun intended). While I don’t think I’d ever have the urge to watch it again I will recommend it. On the flip side I also feel compelled to track down a copy of the original.

3.5 out of 5

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