Director: Franck Kalafoun
Cast: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder
Plot: Traumatised by his childhood, Frank (Wood) retreats to quietly restoring antique mannequins. However, he just can’t quite perfect the scalp…
One of the most terrifying pieces of classic horror I can think of is that slow opening to the original Halloween movie. It is a long tracking shot that acts as the POV of the murderer. Franck Kalafoun, charged with remaking the 1980 original that sadly underachieved when compared to the horror classics of the time, takes this POV of the killer idea and applies it to the entirety of his movie.
At first, you might think of this POV shot as a lousy gimmick. Paranormal Activity’s found footage being the best example, horror movies with a gimmick usually cling to their original concept and use it to validate their existence. Maniac, for the first few scenes, could be accused of doing the same, as the pre-credits sequence shows Elijah Wood’s tormented Frank stalking a young girl in Los Angeles. However, as we get deeper into the movie, the POV tracking shots do something far more powerful. We are forced to spend time with this deranged murderer and, as a result, we get closer to the psychology of the killer than we would have ever done with other horror movies. Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street all pride themselves on the fact that you never know the killer, yet with Maniac, we are given a full 90 minutes trapped with this psychotic monster, who comes across as a mixture of Bates in Psycho or something dreamt up in a Hannibal spin-off novel. This does two things. First, it allows the psychological horror to crank up to the maximum. As we are experiencing the events of the movie as Frank experiences them, we are painfully aware that we will not be cutting away from the violence. The tension is in our mouths as a female victim unwittingly invites a killer back to her place and undresses, because we know that this situation can turn around at any given moment. When a girl is killed, we are forced to watch every gory detail. The first murder is playful, a homage to the bloody yet fun kills that everyone sat down to watch Friday the 13th for, but after that, the kill count gets far nastier and more disturbing. Even after the death, Kalafoun has the camera hold the shot, as Frank performs his twisted acts of cruelty on the corpse. This movie becomes a slow watch, because the skin-crawling nature of the direction might make you hit pause and have a quick coffee to give your mind a break from the nightmare.
The second benefit of the POV shot though is the unexpected element. We accidentally begin caring for Frank. This is partially due to the fact that, while the actresses charged with playing the victims put in a good job, the other characters only ever come across as chess-pieces in Frank’s life. Even Anna, the object of Frank’s true obsession is never really understood, as through Frank’s eyes, she is the perfect girl, rather than a three-dimensional figure. The audience’s need for a more prominent person to get behind forces us to sympathise with Frank. In between the murders, we spend time with Frank in his apartment or going about the city. At times, and this is where the casting of Elijah Wood comes handy, he could easily be the nervous lead in a rom-com. As we learn more about the character’s back story, we end up understanding how he came to be the way he is. One brilliant shot halfway through the movie instantly takes his mother from goddess levels to a place amongst the Top Ten Dysfunctional Mothers list. The thought process of Frank is so muddled that at times, he clearly believes he is in love and the audience gets swept up in that too. Perhaps this is even more skin-crawling that the mannequins or the subject matter. Maniac takes us closer to the psychology of a serial killer than we really want to go, which stays with the viewer long after the movie draws to a close. By the end of the movie, you are forced to admit that the gimmick isn’t cheap, but an excellent way of taking a run-of-the-mill slasher and making it an intelligent dissection of a twisted mind.
Final Verdict: Most people steer away from 80s horror reboots, but Maniac could be the one example where the modern movie out-trumps the first.