Maniac (***)

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maniac_ver8Have you ever wondered what Elijah Wood would be like as a troubled serial killer? Well, the remake of Maniac will provide you what that scenario, and then some. Following the basic steps of the original 1980 film, this one manages to add some artistic touches that help differentiate it and actually separate it from the modern horror pack somewhat as well. Between the visual flairs, handheld camera, and first person filmmaking on display, director Franck Khalfoun is out to make his mark on the material, and for the most part he succeeds. The main selling point here is the lead performance of the aforementioned Wood though, as he turns in frankly one of his best performances to date. Always an intense actor, Wood is a brilliant choice to player a slasher and he relishes the opportunity in a way that not everyone brings to a work like this. The flick is plenty violent and sometimes threatens to go over the top, but it’s a successful exercise in genre filmmaking and one of the few examples of a remake done right. We don’t get too many of these year in and year out, so when they come along it’s worth taking notice of them.

The film aims to be a modern day Jack the Ripper tale, and while there’s shades of that in the story, it’s better to look at it as its own beast. Essentially, we follow Frank (Wood) a mannequin shop owner with serious mommy issues as he spends his nights stalking women. The film actually opens up with him out on the prowl and quickly establishes his M.O. for murder…Frank likes to stab young women to death and then take their scalps home with him. As if that’s not bad enough, Frank then brings them back to his home/workspace and attaches the bloody scalps to mannequins. They’re real people to him, leading to some conversations between the mannequins and Frank, along with flashbacks to his abusive mother (America Olivo). The possibility of a normal life teases Frank in the form of a female friend named Anna (Nora Arnezeder). She comes to his shop looking to use mannequins for an art project, and this both shows Frank a woman he might be able to interact with sanely as well as fueling a different strain to his killing rampage. Will Frank get it under control or will Anna wind up suffering the same fate as just about everyone else who he comes into contact with? Remember folks, it’s a slasher flick…

214765-elijah-wood-maniac-remakeI really enjoyed Elijah Wood’s performance as Frank and easily found it to be the best aspect of the movie. He’s fully committed to the role and just dives right in. Wood is glimpsed at a bunch in mirrors and such, but a lot of the time you just hear him and don’t see him, so it’s a testament to his skill in this role that you still are attached to this character, scary as that may be. Wood is able to sell you on both the horrific nature of the serial killer in his darker moments as well as the tragic backstory and yearnings that he has to be normal in his interactions with Anna. It’s one of the better performances in a genre film this year to me, which is not small praise by any stretch. No one else here is of much note, with only Nora Arnezeder and America Olivo getting more than one or two scenes to do anything, but they’re both in the shadow of Wood. This is his movie through and through, something you never once lose sight of. It’s all about Wood here.

The direction by Franck Khalfoun offers up enough interesting things to give you the sense that this is in no way a straight for hire gig. Khalfoun hadn’t shown me much previously, but his creative juices are flowing. Some of it likely has to do with the script that genre veteran Alexandre Aja wrote with his frequent partner Grégory Levasseur and C.A. Rosenberg (who has no previous credits to his name). Aja would have certainly been a fine choice to direct this flick, but his screenplay is what will have to suffice here. Khalfoun in the director’s chair and the team of Aja, Levasseur, and Rosenberg at the typewriter (or more likely laptop) have taken the original Maniac and given it an arty modern gloss. There’s a definite French influence on display here, and while certain moments are over the top and the few times when the first person approach is abandoned bugged me, most of the time I enjoyed the filmmaking being shown. Khalfoun also got this performance out of Wood, so that’s nothing to sneeze at either.

In the end, the remake of Maniac is a solid little horror movie that should appeal to those who are into slasher films. Between the flashes of artistic merit and the lead performance by Elijah Wood, there’s a little more going on here than normal. The squeamish need not apply here of course, but gore-hounds will have a good time watching Wood slice and dice. It’s got some B movie qualities, but it’s done with an arty spin that gives an old dog a few new tricks. I was impressed overall with this flick…

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