Written & Directed by Franck Khalfoun
Starring: Elijah Wood, America Olivo, and Nora Arnezeder
Just when the streets seemed safe, a serial killer with a fetish for scalps is back and on the hunt. Frank is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition. As their friendship develops and Frank’s obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has unleashed a long-repressed compulsion to stalk and kill.
This was a bloody fun film, and by “fun”, I mean, completely traumatizing. Despite the ambitious nature and disassociated first-person POV method of filming, Maniac is still an 80’s remake about a kid with psychotic mother issues. That angle makes the entire film kind of schlocky imo, but enjoyable and somewhat terrifying in its resolve. When Frank (Wood) wants someone, he gets them. The viewer is visually assaulted with graphic flashbacks involving young Frank and his whore of a mother, and in his defense, anyone could travel the murderer route if you saw what this kid saw. That’s the crux of the film, which is nothing new, but what sets this apart are the performances, directing, Frank’s relationship with Anna (Arnezeder), and the video game-like first person POV.
When we see Frank, he’s shown through reflections – mirrors, car windows – and it just helps Khalfoun show us, or rather, put us, in the killer’s shoes. Much like Assassin’s Creed or other games, we view Frank’s inherent misogyny through Frank’s eyes. Wood is very apt as the stunted killer with a fondness for this unique take on beauty. I enjoyed his pairing with photographer, Anna, an artistic soul that found comfort and inspiration in Frank’s shrouded pastime. This will be too much for some, not enough for others, I would’ve loved it if the director fleshed out the characters a bit more – flashbacks are very limiting in some situations. In the end, I did enjoy Maniac, I just had higher hopes for it. The score, acting, and demented storyline were still good enough for me to call it a success. If you don’t mind plenty of demented scalping, Maniac is a good time.