‘Maniac’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 15th, 2014 at 12:28 am,

Elijah Wood in Maniac 2013 Maniac Review

This film is no doubt destined for long life as a cult-classic viewing experience, but whether or not you need to rush to the theaters to see it depends entirely on your tastes.

In Maniac (2013) we are transported into the world of Frank (Elijah Wood), a very sick young man who works in his late mother’s store, restoring old mannequins to pristine shape. Frank happens to occupy his nights stalking and killing young women, scalping them, and using their hair to transform his lifeless mannequin companions into avatars of his slain victims, who will love him unconditionally and forever – just like mommy used to.

Frank’s hellish world is turned right-side-up with serendipitous arrival of Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a pretty young photographer whose main signature is creating portraits of humanity using posed mannequins as subjects. What starts as a mutual interest in a very strange niche world (mannequins) blossoms into a friendship, as Anna recruits Frank to help her stage a major gallery opening. However, Frank’s growing attraction to Anna quickly begins to conflict with his unquenchable urge to kill, and he fears that it’s only a matter of time before beauty finally recognizes the beast inside of him.

Franks mannequins in Maniac 2013 Maniac Review

As a remake of the 1980 William Lustig cult-classic, Maniac 2013 is a bold attempt to tell a slasher-horror tale from a new perspective: that of the killer himself. Director Franck Khalfoun (along with co-writer/producer Alexandre Aja of High Tension fame) opt for a first-person perspective, forcing viewers behind Frank’s eyes as he stalks and brutally murders his victims. That choice in format will be the make-or-break element when it comes to many viewers’ assessment of Maniac: for some, the forced perspective will be disorienting and sickening; for others, it will be a deliciously twisted experience that sets this film apart from so many other similar works in the genre.

For the most part, Khalfoun does a good job of creating the world through the eyes of killer. There are enough smart breaks in the first-person POV (like, say, when Frank is in front of a mirror) to give the viewer sporadic relief from the technique; similarly, the visual representations of Frank’s psychosis (strange hallucinations or flashbacks, blurring effects whenever one of his schizo migraines hits) add a nice bit of surrealism that allows for some deeper character exploration and cinephile indulgences.

Maniac Review starring Elijah Wood and Nora Arnezeder 2013 Maniac Review

At the same time, the first-person POV is a clear gimmick meant to distinguish the film, and even at a lean 89 minutes, Maniac does begin to wear out its style. By the time Frank is on to victim number five (or above), the initial (creepiness? Horror? Disgust?) of being in a front-row seat of carnage and brutality has eroded into a formulaic routine of episodic kills – but a fantastic surrealist ending does brings some of the intrigue back to the proceedings.

Visually, Khalfoun creates a smart dual-sided world of light and darkness and comes up with some clever camera tricks that make creative use of the first-person format. Other times (like a subway “chase sequence”) the spatial distance of the camera and its subject feels totally at odds with the logic of where Frank is standing or how he is moving. Jump-cuts and other editing techniques provide more than few “cheats.”

Elijah Wood as Frank in Maniac 2013 Maniac Review

Elijah Wood as Frank in ‘Maniac’

The script by Aja and Grégory Leasseur is pretty thin, just a series of “kill episodes” featuring different female victims, strung loosely together by the predictable ‘beauty and the beast’ plot at the center. Aside from a gruesome opening sequence, there is very little surprise or innovation in Maniac‘s story; like watching a train wreck slowly unfold, you know exactly what’s going to happen as things slip slowly down the slope into chaos. All that aside, the screenwriters do manage (through some key flashback moments) to make Frank into a somewhat sympathetic character – only to juxtapose that sympathetic side with Frank’s brutal and merciless nature in some cleverly-constructed (and squirm-inducing) kill sequences – which tend to diminish in quality as the film rolls on.

The main arc between Frank and Anna is well-developed and believable, thanks primarily to Nora Arnezeder, who works well selling chemistry and charm with a camera pointed directly in her face. Wood is an unnervingly perfect choice to play Frank, exuding that mix of boyish innocence and haunted weirdness which makes him so very creepy yet not completely repulsive. If you liked him in Lord of the RingsSin City or even on Wilfred, you’ll be getting that same trademark Elijah Wood, here.

Norah Arnezeder in Maniac 2013 Maniac Review

Norah Arnezeder in ‘Maniac’

However, one definite drawback to the first-person perspective is that at times Wood’s manic performance seems out of synch with the perspective of the camera, which can make the whole experience feel like an episode of Mystery Science Theater. Though these times are far and few between, they are still noticeable. The rest of the cast – mostly a parade of nude or half-nude bit actresses – get suitable time to ham it up before they’re meat for the slaughter.

In the end, Maniac is a sick experiment that has the bloody fingerprints of Alexandre Aja (MirrorsHills Have EyesPiranha 3D)  all over it. It’s best left to the hardcore horror elite who will appreciate the unique format of the film, the homages to other horror (cult-)classics (the Silence of the Lambs Easter egg is pure genius) - and yes, the perverse and gratuitous turns of sex and violence that the slasher genre is known for.

This film is no doubt destined for long life as a cult-classic viewing experience, but whether or not you need to rush to the theaters to see it depends entirely on your tastes. If World War Z  isn’t enough blood to sate your horror needs, Frank’s blade may be just the thing to scratch your itch.

517806546 3 620 439 Maniac Review

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Maniac is now playing in theaters. It is 89 minutes long, and is Unrated (though it contains extremely graphic violence as well as instances of nudity, profanity and brief drug use).

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

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  1. Screenwriters*

  2. Ilijah.

  3. Sounds pretty cool. I might wait for it to be on TV where it will be appreciated better in that format but still, looks good.

  4. It’s available on VOD too. I think I’m gonna go that route. Looks really good IMO.

  5. “a train wreck slowly unfold, you no exactly what’s going to happen…”
    you NO? YOU NO? DON’T YOU??

    Seems interesting, let’s give it a try on VOD. Elijah Wood ALWAYS delivers.

  6. After 3 glaring mistakes (kindly pointed out by the readers here) I think we can all agree I was writing this review on fumes this fine Friday…

    • Blame it on the POV disorientation from the movie. Might check this out, I have to watch the first one again too so I can compare.

    • Writing the review on fumes?

      That could be a movie in itself.

      • In fact, yeah, someone should write that. A movie reviewer writing on fumes and not knowing what was real and what was part of the film he’s writing about. Shenanigans ensue.

  7. This is a visually stunning and brutal movie. The first person viewpoint is used to the fullest, keeping us inside the insanity and the action seems to swirl around the audience, shifting between pensive stalking and the herky-jerky of a frenzied animal. We see fragments of bloody hands and knives, breathe into the victim’s neck, violent slashing, but this is not the implied violence of Psycho. The killings are unbelievable, ghastly, and the effects are so real they are sick. And each murder adds a new gruesome jawdropping trick, building on top of each preceding death. It’s a slasher orgy, the most horrifying movie I’ve seen in years and years and years. You will not believe what you are watching. I love horror films but this one I had to turn away from during each kill, at moments only able to watch the butchery out of the corner of my eye, or through an open hand in front of my face. The cinema’s best music-kill-by, “Ave Maria”, fits like a bloody glove, as a most terrifying end comes to one who probably wishes she had been nicer. You have never seen a slasher flick quite like this one, I swear. Watch “Wolf Creek” as an pre-show warmup, so you can start out on something a little less upsetting, something to ease you into what will come after. AAA+++.

    • If this is the most horrifying movie you’ve ever seen then stay away from A Serbian Film. That one has no reason to exist.

    • Totally has the WOW factor. Loved it!

    • a-flipping-mazing!!!

  8. Great review of this movie. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but agree with most of your criticisms.

  9. I’m a little confused. How is 2.5 out of 5 stars (50%) Fairly Good? Isn’t that mediocre to ok at best?

    • It is in the horror genre, most people who do reviews will knock a star off for the genre alone. I just adjust using a sliding scale, so if you are a fan of the genre it’s a 4 out of 5 probably.

    • Nah, we actually use the full 10-point scale.

      A 2.5 movie can be fun (Battleship) even if it’s not the smartest.

  10. I saw this on VOD and it was a pretty okay movie. I thought the FP filming was done right although it took some getting used to. The scare factor was average and just about to the level that every other horror film that comes out nowadays. I would have rated it about a 2.2/3 stars out of 5. It’s just an average film that is worth checking out but not at the movies. The VOD price is just right

  11. Loved this movie it’s #1 on my list of top 10 movies of 2013 so far.

  12. Watched this and Driver back to back…. total 80′s throwback night.

  13. This is one of favorite movies.

    • my favorite movies.