out of Five
Running time: 89
Stylishly directed and superbly written, this is a genuinely chilling and disturbingly intense slasher-horror-thriller with a terrific central performance from Elijah Wood.
What's it all about?
Directed by Frank Khalfoun and co-written by Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur (Switchblade Romance), Maniac is a remake of William Lustig's 1980 slasher and stars Elijah Wood as L.A. loner Frank Zito, who restores mannequins by day and stalks and scalps women by night, using their hair to recreate them in mannequin form, all of which stems from his decidedly troubled relationship with his long-dead mother Angela (America Olivo). When he meets French photographer Angela (Nora Arnezeder) and she admires his mannequin work, Frank feels that he's found a kindred spirit and begins to wonder if he might actually have a shot at a normal relationship, but things quickly turn ugly when it transpires that Anna already has a boyfriend.
Having already played a serial killer in Sin City, it's clear that Elijah Wood rather enjoys messing with his baby-faced Hobbit heartthrob image and he duly delivers a terrific performance that is both compelling and genuinely disturbing to watch. There's also strong support from both Nora Arnezeder and America Olivo, who's chillingly effective in flashback/fantasy sequences, to the point where you actually start to sympathise with Frank a little, as he's clearly working through some hardcore issues, even if his methods are somewhat questionable.
Khalfoun's direction is assured throughout, making strong use of the point-of-view conceit (there's a definite echo of Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void) and effectively drawing us into Frank's disturbed mental state; in fact, we only ever see Wood in mirrors, reflections and the occasional almost out-of-body moments during the murders. Similarly, the gory sequences are handled extremely well and serve a purpose within the plot, rather than being purely exploitative; at the very least, it's clear that the writers and director are interested in something deeper than straight-up exploitation.
On top of that, Khalfoun orchestrates some tremendously intense sequences (the flat-out bonkers climax is extremely impressive) and the film is impressively shot throughout, courtesy of Maxime Alexandre's prowling camerawork and some impressive production design work. There's also a superb electronica-heavy soundtrack that harks back to the film's 1980s origins.
Provided you can get past the actual scalping, Maniac is an intense, compelling and genuinely chilling slasher/thriller with a terrific central performance from Elijah Wood. Recommended, if you like this sort of thing.