Director: Franck Khalfoun
Cast: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, America Olivo
Watch online: Netflix / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Virgin Movies on Demand
When was the last time you walked home alone at night? Remember that date, because you won’t do it again after watching Maniac. The story of Frank (Wood), a serial killer with a mannequin obsession and a mummy complex to boot, Frank Khalfoun’s remake takes William Lustig’s premise and gives it a new lick of paint. Red paint. And lots of it.
But Maniac manages a rare thing among modern horror: it rises above mere gore to be genuinely horrific. A lot of that comes from its eerie first-person direction. Shot with elaborate flair by Frank Khalfoun, we spend a lot of time hunched over a steering wheel and hiding round corners – giving us a front seat when Frank gets knife happy,
The picture is at its creepiest, though, when Khalfoun deviates from his device: when our protagonist gets really upset, the camera floats away from his POV, Dutch-Tilting into a reflection of Elijah Wood’s angst-ridden face – think Frodo Baggins, just after Sam eats the last of their food.
At times, Wood’s shrieking sub-Norman Bates condition induces the odd giggle, but the boy-faced star throws himself into the role with demented believability. He’s helped by Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur and C.A. Rosenberg’s script, which adds depth to what could have been a shallow grunge flick by introducing an actual female character in potential victim/love interest Anna (a likeable Nora Amezeder). Together, they whip up a surprisingly affecting romance that explores Frank’s tortured mind, without ever really revealing what’s real.
The whole thing is underscored by a menacing synth score from composer Rob. Turning Frank’s heartbeat into a pounding bass rhythm, the film’s use of sound is nastily effective, drowning our ears in intimidating noise before cutting off screams with a sickening squish.
Maniac’s assault on your senses creates a squeamish viewing experience that keeps you hooked even when you want to look away, and later leaves you looking back over you shoulder as you leave the house – and run to the nearest bus stop.