It’s not like Elijah Wood woke up one morning eager to play the role of a psychopath. Or maybe it was. Hell, it worked for Anthony Hopkins in “Silence of the Lambs.” And it sure works for Elijah Wood in “Maniac.” Now, is this an essential horror movie? I would say yes, it is.
There’s a style to this one that is undeniable and it has as much to do with a willingness to go to extremes as it does with artistic vision. The deal that is struck between the film’s creative team and the audience is that of willing to see something get really bloody disgusting for the sake of saying something new. The actors are good for it as we have a solid cast led by a dynamic, and demonic, Elijah Wood, as Frank. This is followed by Nora Arnezeder as the love interest, Anna.
“Manaic,” originally a 1980 grindhouse movie by director William Lusting, has been transformed into a very cool and detached thriller by director Franck Khalfoun. There is no getting around the fact that the killer scalps his victims so that’s the bargain you have to enter into.
Sharing less with grindhouse and more with arthouse, “Maniac” falls in with such classics as “Peeping Tom” and “Psycho.” The main character of Frank in “Maniac” shares an eerie quality with Norman Bates and Mark Lewis. We all know that Norman Bates was a serial killer who could easily keep to himself having inherited his mother’s motel. And so is the case for the lesser known, Mark Lewis, in “Peeping Tom.” He’s a serial killer who inherited his father’s home that he sublets. Both men seem to have control over their destinies but clearly don’t. Both have major mother issues. In the case of Frank, he too is a serial killer and he has inherited the family business, a creepy one, the restoration of mannequins. And you better believe he has mother issues.
Keeping with tradition, Frank becomes attracted with one particular woman that he places in much higher esteem than his usual victims. We can see this coming from a mile away but it is exactly what we hope for. Both Elijah Wood and Nora Arnezeder are great as the doomed couple. While we never really want to sympathize with the Frank character, we are given reasons to consider it. Of course, poor Frank is too far gone for us to ever think Anna can save him. Before we can even see a glimmer of hope, we’re right back into the classic horror movie concern: Will the girl be alright?
Like “Psycho” and particularly “Peeping Tom,” we see a lot of the action through the killer’s eyes, so much so that our first glimpse of Frank is from a mirror. “Maniac” gives us a troubled loner with a sharp contemporary edge. Elijah Wood’s Frank shares something with his audience: disconnected, struggling to connect. Without reading too much into it, Frank serves as an apt symbol for society’s dysfunction. His outlet: scalping women to death. Pretty gruesome stuff and, getting back to the bloody disgusting, classic horror entertainment.
MANICA OPENING THEATRICALLY @ THE IFC CENTER AND ON VOD JUNE 21, 2013
View the MANIAC trailer and get more details here.
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