Maniac (2012)

6.3 Overall Score
Direction: 5/10
Acting: 6/10
Effects: 8/10

It gets gruesome right | Decent Pacing | Gratuitous nudity is placed at even intervals throughout the film | Khalfoun and Aja pay tribute to the film's inspirations in ways subtle enough to remain tasteful

Some overacting | No relatable protagonist means no narrative anchor | No real scares | No suspense | It's all rather forgettable

IFC Midnight
A Franck Khalfoun film
Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, America Olivo

Based on the 1980 William Lustig film of the same starring Joe Spinell (who also wrote the script), Maniac tells the tale of a disturbed mannequin store-owning serial killer named Frank Zito (Wood) who becomes obsessed with a beautiful photographer named Anna (Arnezeder) who happens by his shop while out taking pictures. Frank, traumatized in his youth by his mother – the former owner of the store – who moonlit as a prostitute, is unable to establish any sort of normal relationship with women – or really anyone for that matter – as a result. Prone to migraines which alter his perception of the world around him, Frank is perpetually teetering on the edge of insanity.

He uses an online dating site to find his victims (the number of whom appears to be in the hundreds by the time viewers catch up with him) whose scalps he collects to adorn his mannequins. Often, in visions, they come to life, taking on the characteristics of the women who he has killed. There is, without a doubt, a very Norman Bates-y vibe to our dear Mr. Zito, who is haunted by flashbacks of his whoring mother. Perhaps to pay homage to the classic Hitchcock film, the movie – which was produced and co-written by French horror auteur Alexandre Aja – has not only a shower scene but a bath scene to boot. Psycho is not the movie’s sole inspiration, however; there are two notable references to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, whose protagonist’s name was – you guessed it – Francis.  

The film uses a first-person perspective often, putting us in the shoes of Frank as he carries out these gruesome and graphic slayings. The effects are all excellent and will even make the least squeamish person in the room grimace with discomfort. He scrubs his hands with steel wool too – for those hard to remove stains, I guess – and so the hands we see from his viewpoint are scratched, scabbed and damaged.

The film’s synth-heavy soundtrack recalls the horror/slasher flicks of the 1980s and, more recently, of the superlative Nicholas Refn gem, Drive, starring Ryan Gosling. Where those inspirations had on their side originality and unique style, respectively, Maniac comes off feeling thin and self-indulgent. Wood does the best he can with the character of Frank, a character who is essentially Rorschach from Watchmen minus the moral compass. Showing the audience the horrors he commits through his viewpoint practically thrusts them into his shoes, however where better films have made us empathize, to some extent, with even the most depraved killers, there isn’t much to relate to with Frank. That Anna even entertains the idea of spending time with him is a tough sell considering how strange and creepy he behaves around her.

This isn’t a bad film. It’s well-shot, decently acted (despite the rather poor dialogue) and the pacing, though not superb, is adequate enough to keep things in motion for the film’s roughly 90-minute running time. There is nothing uplifting, inspirational, transcendent or elating about Maniac, however, and because it lacks any true scares or suspense, it’s not much of a horror film either.





Jesse Scheckner
Author: Jesse Scheckner View all posts by
A freelance writer who regularly produces work for MMA Owl, Tuff Gnarl, Broward Palm Beach New Times, Florida Geek Scene and Miami's Community Newspapers. Moderately relevant. Follow me on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

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