Maniac is the perfect film with which to start this year’s festival. Premiering at Cannes this summer, the film is a masterful blend of innovative camerawork and claustrophobic horror that leaves the 1980’s original lying hopelessly in the dust.
Elijah Wood plays Frank, a man who stalks the streets at night looking for beautiful women. On finding a suitable match, he follows them home and then proceeds to kill and scalp them, taking the bloody mess of hair back to his shop where it is stapled onto the head of one of his many mannequins. Frank becomes disorientated, however, when he meets French photographer Anna, a friendly and attractive girl who wants to take pictures of his shop mannequins for an art exhibition. He cares for her, in a way that he hasn’t done with any girl before, and is mortified to discover that she has a boyfriend. On top of that, his murders are all over the news…
Filmed almost completely in POV, we see what Frank sees; we see who he kills and how he does it – the only times we get a look at his face are when it’s reflected in mirrors or glass. It’s a very clever technique that director Franck Khalfoun has decided to use, simply because of how uncomfortable the audience is made to feel – there are scenes where Frank enters the apartments of women who are showering or taking a bath that are actually painful to watch. Similarly, the killings themselves, while not particularly violent, seem so real that they become difficult to comprehend.
Inspiration is obvious. Elements of Psycho are scattered throughout the narrative, so much so that by the end it makes sense to look at Frank as a modern extension of Norman Bates; it becomes explicitly clear that his relationship with his dead mother plays an important part in how he views other women. Interestingly enough, Maniac is in no way misogynistic; Frank isn’t seeking revenge over how women have treated him and his motives have nothing directly to do with sex – he seems simply to be a collector of beauty.
Another film that Maniac echoes strongly is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but not in the most obvious of ways. Henry, like Frank, drives around the dark streets of the city killing unsuspecting women, but it’s very much an objective portrayal, very cold and unsympathetic, whereas Maniac’s narrative is the most empathising a film can be without reading a character’s thoughts aloud and this is where its strengths mainly lie. Wood gives an amazingly believable performance, playing Frank with an unexpected mixture of depravity and humanity, to such an extent that the audience is actually able to feel sympathetic towards him as his world slowly disintegrates.
In terms of horror, Maniac is up there with some of the best of the year, not just because of the acting and the special effects, but also because of its subject matter. For once, this is a film that doesn’t deal with exorcism, possession or found footage – it explores the mind of a serial killer on a profoundly creative level, one that makes you think and shudder at exactly the same time.
“Please don’t scream. You’re so beautiful.”