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Movie review: Maniac

Elijah Wood goes to the dark side to play a serial killer with serious mommy issues

Posted: February 13, 2013

By André Crous - Staff Writer | Comments (2) | Post comment

Movie review: Maniac

Courtesy Photo

Be my bloody Valentine. Frank's problems include a lack of control, his use of a knife and flies buzzing around human flesh in his room.

Elijah Wood's boyish looks and big blue eyes make him an unlikely choice to play a serial killer. Or perhaps it makes him the perfect choice. He has played at least one evil character before, in Sin City, and the effect was bone-chilling because it was so unexpected coming from the sweet and innocent Frodo.

Maniac is a new film he stars in, and the plot certainly lives up to the title. Wood plays a young man named Frank, who meets up with a girl he finds online, pretends to be very shy and ends up at her apartment, where he strangles her during sex. Other women in the film meet their end in even more gruesome ways, as Frank seems to always have a large hunting knife with him.

The film is filled with small scenes of stalking, and all of them lead to blood, bloodcurdling screams and certain death. That is, until Frank meets a French photographer, Anna, who takes an interest in his business. Not the business of killing, but the antique mannequin business he runs that has been in his family for generations, and now he is the only one left.

Anna likes Frank, and Frank likes Anna, and for a while it seems like she could be the one to redeem him - or will it all just end in another grisly scene of stab wounds and tears of desperation?

Directed by Franck Khalfoun
With Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder

This question does provide a measure of tension in the viewer, and despite having a character that is not particularly complex, Wood clearly takes great joy in the role, even though the French girl can't act to save her own life. In this case, that certainly would have been an advantage.

But the reason Maniac is more interesting, at least visually, than most other horror films out there, is its point of view. Almost every single scene is shot from Frank's vantage, and we only get to see him when he looks in the mirror (as happens very often) or when he fantasizes about himself.

This approach is rare in the cinema. The most talked-about example is the 1940s noir film, Lady in the Lake, made at a time when handheld cameras were not available for films, and Maniac's director Franck Khalfoun certainly uses an array of complicated maneuvers to make us guess where he put his camera for us to be looking straight ahead into a mirror without seeing it.

What this achieves is up for debate. One's first conclusion would be that this positioning allows us to be closer to Frank and experience everything he goes through firsthand. But of course that is false, because the camera possesses very little subtlety when it is tied to one point of view like this one. We cannot see how Frank responds to situations, a move that would have given us a much better impression of his state of mind.

This point is particularly evident in the one instance where he stabs a woman to death in an empty parking lot, and finally when he pulls out the knife from her limp back, the blood running down the blade, we can see the lust in his eyes, and the gasp he gives makes us realize he has probably just had an orgasm. But, for some odd reason, the camera here leaves his body to show him to us from the outside. It is crucial for the narrative but makes no sense if measured against the overall film, which has very few instances of showing the main character from outside his own two eyes.

Maniac is bloody and doesn't take any prisoners. Acts of violence are shown from beginning to end, and these also include the removal of the dead women's scalps, just like in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, but here shown in gory close-up.

Maniac uses Wood to good effect, making us uneasy about sharing his point of view while knowing that he is completely cuckoo and has mommy issues that are strikingly similar to those of Norman Bates in Psycho. But there is very little of substance in the film, and the scenes in which Frank follows his victims are badly directed, because we keep wondering why these women are running around screaming on the sidewalk of New York City, yet there is never anyone else out.

In the end, Frank always gets his girl, slices her up and takes part of her home. It makes him happy. But all those flies buzzing over the rotting flesh in his bedroom are bound to irritate even him over time, despite the Raid he keeps on the bedside table.

André Crous can be reached at

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