Frank, troubled mannequin shop owner, struggles to repress his sexually-motivated, murderous urges as he wanders the streets of New York City. When he meets a beautiful female photographer, what begins as a friendship, quickly escalates into something dangerous and sinister, and his urges become increasingly more uncontrollable.
Maniac, a remake of the 1980s William Lustig slasher of the same name, smashed me in the face right from the opening moments, even before the big red letters above this review proclaim the film’s name. In recent violent horror movies, I haven’t been that abjectly affected by the scenes of gore; Evil Dead and The Loved Ones, while being enjoyably graphic, both teetered on the edge of over the top. Maniac, on the other hand, contains multiple scenes of heightened violence, gore and torture, all of which are bowel-churningly effective. There were points during this horror film where I felt physically sick, which may have been the first time that’s ever happened, and it is almost certainly due to the point-of-view (POV) angle through which we are subjected to the scenes of violence.
Not only is this cinematographic decision executed fantastically – we often have shots of Elijah Wood looking at himself in mirrors seamlessly stitched together with POV mid shots – but this stylistic choice helps enhance the thematics of the movie. Some critics have understandably flagged the film as being gratuitously violent, misogynistic and a sign of the humanity we are evidently all losing thanks to films like this one. The main reason for this backlash is that the POV shot puts us as the murderous voyeur; we see everything, we see the blood evacuating freshly cut human flesh, we hear the panicked screams of helpless women, and in any other straight to VOD schlock it would be designed to titillate our inner id. However, in Maniac, Woods, who is fantastic, plays his character as a severely troubled soul. At points we see the ghosts of his childhood as visions of the night, and it’s becomes as sad as it is brutal. Ultimately we never fully sympathise with the killer, as the ending veers into the darkness at a rate of knots and we are complicit in some horrific killings, but it does make you question the past lives of people that feel compelled to commit horrific acts.
Maniac is not without its flaws. The female lead’s audio has clearly been ADRed, which becomes quite annoying at points; the sound recordist needs to learn how to mix down the audio better. There is also a killing near the beginning where Frank’s hands are bloody and bruised, yet he still manages to pick up a woman in a bar. I’ve met some freaky ladies in my time, but I am sure even they would have the wherewithal to turn down the advances of someone with literal blood on their hands.
Overall, I found Maniac to be one of the most effective serial killer movies I have seen in a very long time. It’s brutal, a hard watch, and has enough moments of hard-hitting violence to turn the most ardent horror fan’s stomach.
Off-topic: We are fully back now. San Francisco was a fantastic experience, and Lauren had a great post-wedding summer, but it’s autumn now, and we actually have some news for y’all that we will announce this weekend!