Director: Franck Khalfoun
Writers: Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur, and Joe Spinell
Stars: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, America Olivo, and Megan Duffy
From across the street we watch two women leaving a bar from the point-of-view of Frank (Elijah Wood). The first catches a cab while the other tries to hail one. After being accosted by an overly aggressive guy she decides to walk down the street to continue trying to catch a cab. Frank follows her in his vehicle. She sees him and starts to walk faster. He turns the corner and drives away saying to himself he’ll see her shortly.
Later that night she arrives at her apartment building. Frank, inside the building cuts the power to her floor. Soon she walks down the hall towards her apartment in the dark. Frank follows her. As she opens the door she hears him breathing and turns around. Frank stabs her head driving his knife up through the bottom of the jaw. Next he brings out a razor blade and scalps her.
Maniac is disturbing and gory. The film functions as an excellent psychological horror because someone like Frank can and probably does exist. That knowledge keeps you on edge and makes everything you are watching that much more disturbing. The only negative is the gore. Do we have to see every scalping. In the end it was too much. If the filmmakers had elected to just infer or simply have us hear the scalping, then none of the effect of the horror would have diminished and the movie itself would most likely appeal to a larger audience.
Elijah Wood is well cast as Frank. His large expressive eyes, wispy voice, and pale complection all add to his characterization of Frank. Though minimally onscreen since what we are watching is mostly told from Frank’s perspective, Wood wholly owns the role. As for the female performances, Megan Duffy is the stand-out as Lucie in her short screen time. Nora Arnezeder as Anna–Frank’s infatuation–and America Olivo as Frank’s Mother have more screen time, but are not as memorable as Duffy.
The story is well thought out and never over-the-top. Frank is not made out to be an indestructible monster. He is human and can be injured and killed. His victims are not stupid people who made wrong decisions. They are strong women that unfortunately met Frank. The ending of the film was surprising and realistic.
The look of the film is well crafted. Downtown Los Angeles is as much a vital character in the film as Frank. The depopulated streets and subway stations of the City by night and weekends are what allows Frank to operate. Frank as a serial killer could not function in perpetually crowded and busy New York, but in empty and isolated Los Angeles he is a lone wolf in the wilderness looking for prey.
The music and score also serve the story and setting well. There is a Scarface synthesiser vibe to the score that fits. It fits the locales, it fits Frank, and it fits Frank’s condition.
Maniac stays with you. It’s haunting, if a little too gory.
Grade = A-