It was Bloody Disgusting’s #1 movie of 2013. It was also written by one of my all-time favorite Horror practitioners: Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, 2006). So why was I dragging my feet on seeing Maniac? Blame it on Elijah Wood.
For better or worse, Elijah Wood had become synonymous with Frodo Baggins. I can’t look at his face without being reminded of his over-the-top, near homoerotic friendship with Sean Astin who played Sam.
“How on Earth,” I asked myself, “Can Hobbit-Boy possibly be convincing as the titular Maniac in last year’s remake? No way he can pull that off!” I don’t often admit to being wrong but—I was. Elijah kicked some serious ass as Frank Zito!
Read my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: A 21st century Jack the Ripper set in the present day, Maniac is a reboot of the cult film considered by many to be the most suspenseful slasher movie ever made. Frank (Elijah Wood) is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition. As their friendship develops and Frank’s obsession escalates and the number of victims increases, it becomes clear that Frank is far more dangerous than he seems. With a pulsating electronic score by Rob, the film is an intimate, visually daring, psychologically complex and profoundly horrific trip into the downward spiraling nightmare of a killer and his victims.
It’s worth noting that the entire film is shot from the main character’s perspective, so we only ever see Elijah’s face when he looks in a mirror (or when he’s having an out-of-body experience—more on that later). This is good news if, like me, you have trouble initially separating the actor from the hobbit. And while some may be predisposed to believe that a film from the killer’s perspective is just an annoying gimmick, Aja proves again that he is a master behind the camera. Not only does this method pay off in Maniac, this perspective is what makes the film a truly stirring (and disturbing) experience.
Inside Frank Zito’s head, seeing the world through his eyes, we can no more escape the nightmare than he can—and we, too, share culpability in his actions. There is no looking away when knives plunge and scalps peel from skulls. We look into the terrified eyes of his victims as they pierce the veil. When Frank is sick to his stomach, we are as well—and together we projectile vomit. When Frank is struck with debilitating migraines, we too get a form of tunnel vision where the edges of the world blur and glow. Once a viewer gives in to the experience, it’s almost as if Frank’s voice is coming from inside our own heads.
The only time Frank sees himself is when he sees his own reflection—or when he’s experiencing the ecstasy of a kill’s immediate aftermath. In these moments, as Frank cuts flesh, panting in a way that seems near orgasmic, he is suddenly discorporated, floats a few feet away, and watches the scene as if he too is a spectator. It’s like we’ve heard on 48 Hours and true crime shows when a person admits to killing: “It’s like I was outside my body, watching myself”.
Frank is the worst aspects of Norman Bates and Victor Frankenstein combined: A man unable to escape his past, driven to create his perfect mate through ungodly actions. The broken mirrors in his apartment reflect his distorted view of self. He hallucinates, believes his mannequins are speaking, and imagines himself neutered. And while I’ve heard Elijah’s portrayal of Frank described as “sympathetic”, I personally disagree. Even those big blue Frodo eyes can’t soften this monster.
With Aja at the helm, it should go without saying that Maniac is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. We’re subjected to an especially brutal kill before the title credits even roll (knife under chin, blade gleaming in the victim’s mouth as she silently screams). And the intensity never lets up. Everything is up close and personal.
Fans of Aja may not enjoy Maniac as much as High Tension or The Hills Have Eyes, but will agree that it’s a worthy addition to his cannon. Put your preconceived notions about Elijah Wood aside and prepare for a brutal ride.
3.5 out of 5 Scalped Heads.
|Release Date (Limited/VOD)||June 21 2013|
|Writer||Grégory Levasseur, Alexandre Aja|
|Starring||Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Genevieve Alexandra, America Olivo, Morgane Slemp, Sal Landi, Dan Hunter, Freedom, Délé Ogundiran, Steffinnie Phrommany, Joshua De La Garza|