Maniac stars Elijah Wood as Frank, an unstable man who runs his own mannequin shop. During the night Frank becomes a stalker of women. He hunts them down, attacks them, kills them and then scalps them. After falling in love with an artist named Anna (Nora Arnezeder), Frank is struggling to contain his murderous side. Will he snap or will Anna fix the monster within?
Director Franck Khalfoun is faithful to the horror genre whilst also employing a unique and strong visual style. Frank’s story is told entirely through point of view. This allows Khalfoun, Wood and director of photography Maxine Alexandre to be extremely creative. All of the horror comes from how we react to Frank, by using POV we almost complicit to his actions. It works a lot like Michael Powell’s classic Peeping Tom, the audience becomes a part of the villain, making for an awkward and self-reflective viewing. If you properly absorbed then it becomes scarier as you start to question how you react to violence.
Elijah Wood is fascinating as Frank. An actor I’ve always enjoyed watching, I find his psychopaths to be truly terrifying and Frank is his best yet. The development of Frank is key and with important flashbacks guiding us, the audience becomes increasingly compassionate for the character despite what they see on screen. Wood’s performance reminds me greatly of Karlheinz Böhm’s in Peeping Tom, they are essentially the same beast and both performances take the audience to dark places.
Maniac loses its way on the plot front in the third act, rushing through the development of supporting characters and speeding up events to make the film more exciting. It could have used another 30 minutes to make the relationships stronger, which would have resulted in a more powerful finale. Wood’s great development of Frank is wasted due to misstep; the final moments will frustrate even the most patient and accepting viewer.
You don’t want to feel sympathy for Frank, but it is almost impossible due to Elijah Wood’s standout performance. With Khalfoun and Alexandre 100% committed to the task of creating a visual superior film, they’ve managed to craft an ingenious and original horror film unrivalled by anything I’ve seen in recent years. The score by Rob is also something special, it adds significantly to the film and is a wonderful homage to the scores by John Carpenter. It isn’t without its faults, but it is hard to admire Maniac for wanting to achieve something more… even if it does fall just a little bit short.
3.5 out of 5.0