***THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE HOLLYWOOD NEWS, HERE***
Director: Franck Khalfoun.
Starring: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Megan Duffy, America Olivo.
Running Time: 89 minutes.
Synopsis: Frank (Elijah Wood) is an attractive yet awkward shop owner with a fetish for scalps. As his mental state worsens when a young artist, Anna (Nora Arnezeder) enters his life, his potent thirst for blood threatens to ruin any chance of a normal friendship.
Opening to slick city streets and electronic beats, Franck Khalfoun’s remake of William Lustig’s 1980 cult horror is reminiscent of the Los Angeles presented in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. But don’t be fooled, as the contemporary city setting is soon unveiled as a dirty, dangerous place where the days are bathed in claustrophobic greyish hues and not even an apartment corridor or parking lot is safe.
The latest in a long line of 1980s remakes from The Karate Kid to Fright Night, it would be fair to predetermine Franck Khalfoun’s film as a generic, unengaging genre piece. But Maniac is an intelligent, intoxicating and deliciously uncomfortable film that commits so steadfastly to its first-person viewpoint that it doesn’t give you a chance to breathe.
The socially awkward owner of a mannequin shop, Frank is an attractive thirty-something who is suffering an increased mental struggle after the death of his mother (America Olivo) and lacks the ability to decipher where his past blurs into his present. With his workplace serving as a fortress from the outside world, his bubble of security is perforated when the mannequins spark the interest of young photographer Anna, who longs to use them as part of her work. Admiring his perfectionist work mentality, Anna embarks in a dangerous tango with Frank and his deviant alter ego that keeps us questioning his motives until the end.
Coming into its own with its unfaltering and unflinching first-person viewpoint, from the moment we see Frank’s eyes reflected in his rearview mirror and assume his perspective, we are set on an enthralling, white-knuckle ride that uncomfortably allows an odd streak of sympathy for our very damaged lead. Adding a far greater element of suspense when we cannot read our protagonist’s face, proceedings are flecked with novel flairs that add to the sadistic fun in watching this nighttime prowler.
Surprisingly, Frank’s murders don’t progress in brutality. In fact, where you expect big jumps, our killer uses quieter tactics, with strangulation just as chilling and intense as multiple stabbings. Unfathomably well executed, the violence is never overpoweringly nauseating, but having (thankfully) been released uncut, is certain to ruffle a few conservative feathers. Though it does take its glorified time over its violence and each meticulously constructed kill, Frank’s art is an act of perfection that is strangely fascinating to watch in its entirety.
Dowsed in a sleazy glaze that’s abetted by ROB’s eerie, electronic score resonating through the film like a foreboding countdown to Frank’s frenzied eruptions, Maniac succeeds by choosing to weave its past into its present to reflect the fragmented nature of Frank’s reality. The combination of encroaching camerawork and Elijah Wood’s impressive volatile performance guarantees that, though we may not always be able to see our protagonist, his presence is constantly and unnervingly felt. The film’s haunting ending may be more symbolic than what has preceded it, but it’s an interesting choice to see it settle away from the overriding anger and intensity that make it so sadistically enjoyable.
Maniac is released in UK cinemas today.