Behind blue eyes – Maniac review

Maniac

By Simon Miraudo
October 14, 2013

Those who prefer to keep their distance from unsavoury characters would do well to avoid Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac, a horror movie that indicts desensitised audiences by placing us behind the eyes of a murderer. A remake of the grimy 1980 film of the same name, it appropriates a novel first-person perspective from which it only escapes on two occasions. That they’re the two moments in which no reasonable viewer could possibly sympathise with the scalp-collecting Frank (Elijah Wood) is telling.

The rest of the time, we do sympathise with him. Kinda. Though he’s only occasionally glimpsed (in mirrors and such), Wood’s soft, timorous voice betrays the child within; the child who grew up spying on his prostitute mother as she conducted her transactions. As an adult, he stalks the streets looking for potential paramours, and, in his own demented version of courtship, slices their foreheads, removes the hair, and adorns a variety of dolls with the makeshift wigs in his family’s abandoned mannequin store. Look, dating is tough.

Maniac

By putting us in Frank’s shoes – and allowing us to witness his warped hallucinations and disturbing memories, as well as occasionally share the brain-melting pain of his migraines – Khalfoun and screenwriter/producer Alexandra Aja encourage us to show a sliver of empathy to this, well, maniac. When he sparks up a friendly relationship with pretty photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder), we expect the mask of his sanity to soon slip and for the bloodshed to begin. Instead, he expresses affection for her, and perhaps even love, while keeping the killer inside him at bay. As we watch – from the best seats in the house – Frank’s internal struggle, we know her grisly demise is an inevitability, and even anticipate that moment of gory release. This is, after all, why we’re watching an R-rated movie called Maniac, right?

Refused classification in New Zealand, the violence in Maniac is indeed graphic and repellent (and almost always directed at women). Yet, to immediately dismiss the movie on those grounds is to ignore the – perhaps accidentally – transgressive POV. When I say Frank is sympathetic, I don’t mean that the picture asks us to forgive his actions (considering the moments we leave his head involve his most vicious and crazed actions, Khalfoun might be suggesting the exact opposite). Instead, it simply asks us to consider what we’re doing watching this thing. Why is it more troubling to see these murders as if we’re committing them, but not if we’re simply viewing them from afar?

With the accomplished Maxime Alexandre serving as cinematographer, and Raphael Hamburger providing a euro-trashy synth score, Maniac proves exploitative horror flicks need not seem hastily slapped together to unsettle and disturb. Maniac is technically impressive, which is more than can be said for most schlock of its ilk. If you’re watching Maniac to admire cinematic handiwork, to ponder our culpability in slasher flicks, or to compare Wood’s performance with the original’s Joe Spinell, I can safely recommend it. If you want to have some fun with a pulse-quickening splatter-fest, you might want to turn your eyes elsewhere. Maniac is grisly, but far from a good time.

3/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Maniac will be available on Quickflix from October 16, 2013.

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