dir. Franck Khalfoun
One of the reviews in the back of my DVD of this film calls it “Drive‘s psychotic cousin” which I think it’s an apt description (though perhaps less so now since NWR has made The Neon Demon, which is more closely related to Maniac than Drive, in terms of atmosphere and mood. It’s relentless though, just like Drive. But the music, though, is probably the NWR-est aspect of the film. It’s got that 80s synth vibe, and it doesn’t fall in the traps of modern horror with dramatic notes or music cues to denote terror — rather, it goes on the John Carpenter route of letting the visual do the terror while the sound creates the eerie atmosphere.
I enjoyed this quite a bit. It’s extremely gory, and the effects are done masterfully — especially all the scalping sequences, you can see every nook and cranny of these women’s scalps. But what makes this truly mesmerising and grotesque is the first person POV, because it makes you feel like you’re the one doing the dreadful things, like in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days when the girl gets attacked by the criminal and he makes her wear the headset, making her see her own rape and murder through his eyes. It’s absolutely brutal, and I think it says something about out fascination with the gruesome and perverted. It’s almost more effective this way because you can’t dissociate from the murder, look away at the scenery, close your eyes until it’s finished — his eyes are your eyes, you are killing this women. It adds an extremely uncomfortable layer to this film which I found really brilliant.
Elijah Wood made this film, though. His acting is fantastic. An unassuming man who is, in his own words, “timid,” and whose past still haunts him. A Norman Bates character, who is a staple of horror, with deep-seeded mummy issues, living in the outskirts of society because he is unable to tear himself from his mind long enough to create meaningful relationships. “Why can’t you let me have just one?” he asks, crying, almost as if he shares a mind with someone else, a creature, his own brother in a basket. But we are never made to feel sorry for him, and he never gets his redemption (he doesn’t deserve it,) rather, the film sends him off in spectacular fashion, destroyed by his own mannequins, becoming himself a mannequin, finally succumbing to this disease.
Overall, Maniac isn’t a particular fun watch because it is gruesome and it is relentless, but it’s a commendable effort, and a really well-made film.