Film Review: Maniac (2013)
Coming across like ‘Drive meets The Driller Killer’, Franck Khalfoun’s remake of cult 1980 slasher Maniac is a far more stylish proposition than we’re used to in the horror genre. Filmed entirely from the perspective of psychopathic Frank (Elijah Wood), Maniac features some of the most beautiful cinematography you’ll see all year, which is surprising given the level of horrific gore and body horror in display here. Easily one of the goriest flicks of recent times, Maniac, like most good slashers, is almost plotless, as Frank, a mannequin obsessed loner who stalks women and uses their scalps for his display models. Though seemingly just another in the line of cult horror films remade for no reason, Maniac is actually a refreshingly enjoyable horror, and surprisingly unique.
Building on his creepy-as-hell role as Kevin in Sin City, Wood gives an excellent portrayal of a hugely disturbed young man. Though not the obvious choice to play a serial killer due to his boyish looks (the protagonist of the original was overweight and middle aged), Wood is genuinely disturbing and completely believable. It’s a testament to his skills that we get the full sense of his psychosis despite only seeing his reflection in mirrors and windows.
Also of note is the score, a brilliantly retro, pulsating electro score that recalls to mind the finest works of Goblin. In fact, there seems to be a real Argento vibe to the film as a whole; the killer POV shots are clearly indebted to Giallo, whilst a chase scene through a gorgeously lit subway station is possibly the finest Argento scene never filmed. Writers Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur, mostly known for the remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha, clearly have a deep affection for the genre, and this pays off in Maniac.
Where Maniac is really let down, however, is in maintaining the interest of 90 minutes. Despite quite a few scenes of intense violence, inventive gore or creepy atmosphere, around the halfway mark, a sense of repetition does begin to set in. There are only so many scalping and stabbings you can sit through before they become fairly dull, and the main narrative drive, Frank’s ‘friendship’ with a photographer, isn’t hugely exciting, so we’re left with some fantastic scenes but not a great deal in between. Thankfully, the best scenes are good enough to just about keep Maniac from sinking.
Far from perfect, with a line in casual misogyny and a mostly redundant narrative, Maniac is helped by a great Elijah Wood performance, an unusual gimmick and some of the best cinematography you’ll see in a horror film. If Maniac isn’t the best horror film of the year, it’s certainly one of the better horror remakes of recent years.
By Harry Ford