Told entirely from the point of view of a crazed serial killer, a young man kills women and scalps them in order to add to his collection.
Maniac has benefitted from a very strong poster, and being picked up for contention in various awards. It’s created some buzz that this remake of the 1980s slasher of the same name is actually something new and interesting, even innovative.
Sadly, it isn’t. It almost is, but it ends up delivering relatively little of interest.
Elijah Wood performs strongly, and the direction is done well enough that we get the character even despite the lack of screen time for Wood. It looks good throughout, and the special effects are very well done. There are a couple of moments of genuine tension as well.
However, there are fundamental flaws – not the least of which is the wholesale ignorance of CCTV. There’s a scene where Wood follows a girl from the Subway up through the large station, into the streets and into a car-park. It’s established that this is fairly close to the city centre as well. She’s aware he’s following her, and she’s screaming constantly. And it’s not that late either. Somehow, they don’t pass another person. It’s a long scene, too. It would appear that she’s running away from him for a good five minutes. I actually thought that it was going to turn out to be a fantasy sequence or something, but it isn’t. It’s just badly done.
This happens again and again. He’s the least subtle serial killer in a supposedly realistic stalk/slash movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a problem because it’s an update of an ‘80s movie, not a period piece. This should absolutely be taken into account, but the film hasn’t bothered doing so.
It’s a flaw in the scripting which is a consistent problem thoughout the film. It doesn’t help that it has some difficult portrayals of women throughout. They are very much there to be victims, to look pretty and to show their breasts for the most part. And, to be fair to the film-makers, none of them could complain that they haven’t been made to look good – it’s a very well shot film. But all the female roles are paper-thin, which is unfortunate, since they seem to have got some good actresses to play the parts.
There’s also the problem that Elijah Wood is somewhat miscast, although he is working hard in it. The scene mentioned above where he stalks the woman shows why. The victim is a dancer/gymnast, who is first shown doing some ribbon suspension work that suggests that she must be in phenomenal shape. And yet she runs in terror from Frodo. And she’s not the only one.
You can’t cast someone as being utterly terrifying and also cast them as someone who is mocked for being short, slight and assumed to be gay. Unassuming and terrifying is a difficult combination.
At times, it seems that serial murder is being played as an addiction. And it flirts with getting interesting when it does this. It also goes into the delusions the main character faces, and again, at times, flirts with being something new. But it ends up being rather unsatisfying.
It’s unfortunate, because it’s fairly well done, but defeated by its own lack of structure, believability and consistent tone. It’s an unpleasant, somewhat misogynistic film, but it almost does something really interesting in putting us in the killer’s point of view. It does have something of a voyeuristic thrill, but it never feels like it looks back at us and challenges us.
There are three films that have done this better, and one of them isn’t even a horror film. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, American Psycho and the more recent Shame all deal with addiction and attitudes towards women in a far more interesting way, and all of them keep the main character front and centre in a similar way.
It may well be that I’ve overestimated the intentions of this film, but if that’s the case, they’re mis-selling it as something new and innovative, when it’s actually just a fairly well-made remake.