by Ben Marques
“Maniac” is the arty, European remake of the ’80s cult slasher-film of the same name, complete with a new, irritating POV gimmick and a decidedly uninventive soundtrack. The story follows Frank (Elijah Wood), a serial killer with a scalp fetish who is just trying to live peacefully in his mannequin shop, restoring these alleged antiques. Upon scalping a victim, he dresses up one of the mannequins like the victim in question, scalp and all, so they can keep him company.
Due to some form of childhood trauma regarding his mother and her sexual exploits, Frank is forever scarred and has of course turned to murder as a release for all his psychological troubles. The audience gets to view this directly through Frank’s eyes, only occasionally seeing the protagonist through a mirror or other reflective surfaces. This device makes the entirety of the film unbearably literal and predictable.
His one chance at redemption comes in the form of Anna (Nora Arnezeder), the horribly contrived love interest of the film, who just so happens to be photographing mannequins for her latest exhibition. There isn’t an ounce of believability in their relationship. And yes, in horror films dealing with psychopaths there does not necessarily need to be much authenticity if the film is self-aware or excessively silly or contains an intriguing premise. However this film lacks any semblance of a single one of those elements. This version of “Maniac” is a purely lifeless and pretentious venture.
Elijah Wood does all he can in this role. Usually, it should be appreciated when a character’s history is not blatantly spelled out for the audience. There’s nothing wrong with doing a little thinking, but even with the flashbacks in this film, it was very difficult to pinpoint a good reason for Frank’s bloodlust. Wood was creepy and effectively menacing, but nothing that he says holds much weight. A good majority of the threat in his character dissipates when logic flies out the window in scene after scene. Though the desired effect of all of the loose ends and unrealistic coincidences may have been to recreate a sort of fever dream, it comes off resembling little more than laziness.
Director Franck Khalfoun seems to be acting without motivation as well. Throughout the film, it is not clear why someone would want to present this story to an audience. There is a general lack of humanity that feels much too half-hearted. If Khalfoun wanted to go for broke in the stark, dreadful way Michael Haneke executed the original “Funny Games” or ludicrously entertaining like Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods,” he may have found a tone that is worthwhile. Instead, the film is more akin to watching someone play a horrible video game.
At times, Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography is inventive and striking, but those moments are few and far between. Also, the aforementioned soundtrack is occasionally unsettling, but mostly repetitive without adding to the tension of the moment. Unless you enjoy naked women being scalped, there is nothing to enjoy about “Maniac.”
Ben Marques is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.