Maniac remake repulses for the wrong reasons
Arguably, no genre revels in misogynistic excesses more than the slasher- horror category. Making a strong case for said argument is Franck Khalfoun’s remake of 1980’s controversial Maniac. An unlikely casting move sees diminutive Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood stepping into the blood-soaked shoes of Frank, the maniac himself. The results are entirely implausible whilst managing to be both offensively vile and downright stupid. Truly, Maniacis insulting to women and any cinema goer who expects a basic level of intelligence displayed within a film’s plot.
Largely, Khalfoun’s Maniac is shot from Frank’s point of view as he murders multiple women across Los Angeles. As such, Wood is seen infrequently, save for a variety of reflection shots and fantasy sequences. However, the viewer does become quite familiar with his battered and bruised hands (something none of his would-be victims ever seem to pick up on, oddly). Drawn to his mannequin restoration shop, Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a young French photographer specialising in (get this) mannequin photography, befriends Frank who struggles to keep his urges at bay. Virtually every development in Maniac’s paper-thin plot defies any sense of reality. In a city of four million people, Frank is able to blatantly hunt and kill his victims in public without ever being seen. Despite presumably having the aid of modern technology on their side, the LA police department appear to be entirely incapable of apprehending such a careless murderer. Yet this is only the tip of the lazy-writing iceberg that also sees tiny Elijah somehow hold a woman underwater with one hand, along with an incredibly daft climax- the sheer stupidity of which cannot be disclosed without spoiling the film.
Of course, Maniac isn’t just idiotically illogical; it basks in the voyeuristic, sexualised assault of women throughout. As Frank slices, stabs and scalps, Maniac dishes out plenty of shock but no substance. None of the women matter. They are simply there to be fed to this monster, whose eyes the world is seen through. Frank’s traumatised past appears to consist solely of bearing witness to his mother’s sexual exploits. So what is the message here? That female sexuality is so wrong it can result in such psychological damage? That overtly sexual women deserve to be punished? There are many ways to read whatever it might be that Maniac is mumbling, but it is impossible to deny that it revels in the victimisation of the women; so much so that none of them have a chance to overcome the power(!) of this rather small, bug-eyed man. Even the lone male victim is of a feminine nature. Maniac truly is disturbing cinema, but for all the wrong reasons.
Performance-wise, Wood certainly manages to look creepy, but that is where plaudits begin and end for him. He plays Frank incredibly over-the-top to such a degree that it is impossible to see why anyone, such as Anna, would want to spend more than five minutes with him. There’s nothing charming or clever about Wood’s Frank. And yes, his small stature makes it all the more incredulous that no woman he comes across can outfight, if not outrun or outsmart, him. Arnezeder is likable enough as the oddball photographer. It would have been nice if she appeared to know how to actually handle a camera, but that is the least of Maniac’s problems.
There is some creative use of the point-of-view technique, yet it is undermined by inconsistencies. Randomly reverting to conventional framing, such as during the height of a car park attack, is an unnecessarily self-defeating break for the film’s own style. There is also a distinct carelessness as to the height of Frank, with Anna peering down at the camera as they stroll side-by-side in one scene, only to gaze straight ahead at him later on (despite being in heels, nonetheless). A synthesiser-heavy score is oddly reminiscent of Drive; this is especially so when the electronic beats accompany Frank on his frequent cruises of the LA streets. It does add to the overall atmosphere, but it’s also been done before. Cute homages to the original and other horror, better horror films may be fun on the surface, but they also function to glorify the violence.
Maniac is brutally gory without managing, in the slightest, to be frightening or suspenseful. Stripped of even the vaguest hint of a strong, intelligent female presence, Khalfoun’s remake is dangerously fixated on exploiting the punishment of women. Above all, Maniac disgusts: not for the visuals alone, but for what they seem to represent. Intriguing presentation is wasted on a disastrously poor script that illustrates, yet again, how low the standard for horror is often set. That a film shot in a point-of-view perspective should have such a thoroughly repugnant perspective itself makes Maniac and the idea that it is meant to be entertaining increasingly unsettling. 3/10