Tuesday, October 22

Some quick thoughts on MANIAC (2012)

A young psychopath with mommy issues, Frank (Elijah Wood), cruises the city in his dingy serial killer van brutally murdering and scalping attractive women. Eventually, a photographer (Nora Arnezeder) befriends him out of interest in his vast vintage mannequin collection for her upcoming exhibition. It's only a matter of time...before this film is considered a classic of the horror genre?

Taken at face value (like the mostly jokey outline above), Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur's remake, directed by cohort Franck Khalfoun, of William Lustig's controversial 1980 grinder appears to wear everything on its sleeve. Two of the biggest "re-imagining" sins pop up almost immediately with elements only hinted at in Lustig's original expanded upon to the point it feels their being spoon-fed. And then an almost textbook stereotypical screen portrayal of a serial killer is strutted around like the ancient concept is groundbreaking. It's enough to make anyone whose seen a couple solid celluloid depictions of murderers gripe that it's just another dumbed down remake.

There's the danger of losing the audience Aja and Levasseur straddle with casting such a deceptively superficial light on Frank and his motivations. The pair take great pains in delving into his infatuation with the restoration of mannequins, once his family's business. This, and haunting memories of his brazenly promiscuous mother, feeds into his unstoppable quest for female victims to adore his life's work with. All of this is plainly spelled out in a compact narrative, much though Frank's own point-of-view perspective, that doesn't seem to make room for mystery or speculation. Yet throwing Maniac off as just another hollow serial killer outing that again tries to reinvent the wheel Norman Bates first began rolling would be in error.

Like their debut feature, Haute tension (High Tension) (2003), the writing pair have added a little climatic revelation that adds unexpected dimension to their main character. It's one of the few things not touched upon directly in the feature with the burden resting on the lead and Khalfoun to bring out with subtlety. And do they ever. Elijah Wood provides such a sense of nuance throughout, especially with regard to this twist, that his Frank rivals the iconic killers fashioned by Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960), Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu in The Vanishing (1988), and Ted Levine in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). If Wood's performance wasn't impressive enough, the care at which he handles this additional depth only proves what seemed like curious casting a stroke of brilliance.

But this might go flying over the heads of those that view this Maniac as a simplified knock-off concerned only with matching the misogyny and bruality of the original. And while Lustig and Spinell's potent sledgehammer approach still carries impact, this remake outwits the rough caricature seen in 1980 by refining what made Frank so chillingly real. The much more focused exploration of what drives his murderous inclinations and outward meekness of Wood's Frank combine to make this one of the best horror films of the last few years. Maybe even hindsight might provide Maniac with the status of a classic of the genre in the future. It's only a matter of time...


Kangas said...

I liked it, but had reservations. I think 12 year old me would have liked it more. But that final shot where they tear apart Elijah's face...that was crazy great.

Jay Clarke said...

Agreed. I feel this will be more highly revered as time goes by as more people see it. Horror fans initially not giving it a look because of it being a remake and shot in POV may be converted once they actually give it a chance. Definitely one of the better remakes I've seen in a while.

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