Production Company: La Petite Reine, Studio 37, Canal+, Ciné+, Blue Underground
Country: France, USA
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Cast: Elijah Wood – Frank, Nora Arnezeder – Ana, America Olivo – Frank’s Mother
Even though the horror genre has had somewhat of a mainstream revival over recent years, with the never-ending Paranormal Activity series, and James Wan returning at the helm of films like Insidious (2010) and The Conjuring (2013), which led to recent release Annabelle (2014), these films weren’t really a hit for me. They’re fun to watch, but they’re always a little obvious and despite the found footage idea or extravagant concept, it’s not particularly original.
One of the best things about the horror genre is that there are so many rules to break and pretty much anything goes. A great horror movie will find a good balance between old, new, funny, disturbing and nasty. It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds.
Maniac continued to pop up in my ever-so-inaccurate list of films Netflix is convinced I will love. Naturally I avoided it. However, it’s also been appearing in a lot of top horror movie lists, and so I decided to give Netflix a chance to get this right…
The film is about Frank (Wood), a young man who runs a mannequin repair shop which was left to him by his mother. In first shots of the film, it seems Frank is stalking
an attractive girl on the streets of New York, and his intentions are made very clear within the first minutes of the film. But it’s the arrival of Ana (Arnezeder), who has a passion for Frank’s mannequins, which brings out the sweeter side of Frank’s psychotic personality.
There are quite a few interesting things about Khalfoun’s movie. Firstly it’s a remake of the 80s original and it pays homage to this with an awesome updated 80s soundtrack by ROB. The opening credits are set to this menacing electro music, and show Frank watching the NYC public as they go about their daily business. It’s pretty special.
Khalfoun also opts to have almost every shot of the film seen from Frank’s perspective. You, the audience, watch the entire thing as Frank and so feel even more uncomfortable in the moments he gets close to a woman or lets his anxiety begin to take over. I thought this would be a distracting ‘novelty’ concept, but is works so, so well.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the team behind the film. Khalfoun and script writer Alexandre Aja worked on Switchblade Romance (Haute Tension, 2003) together. Despite the problems with Switchblade Romance, it’s still one of my favourite horror movies. Aja is a big name in the horror genre, having written the script for The Hills Have Eyes (2006) remake, and directed Daniel Radcliffe in the just released, Horns (2014). There’s also the bizarre sounding casting of Eljah Wood.
This was initially a bit of a turn off as the thought of Elijah Wood in a serious horror movie seemed a bit impossible to me. I was wrong. Wood does a fantastic job as Frank and creates a convincingly deranged young man with a few nods to Norman Bates: sweet on the outside, mental with mummy issues on the inside.
Maniac was a total surprise to me and I highly recommend it. It’s a different horror experience but manages to be nostalgic with the genre tropes we all love while still being inventive. There are some gruesome scenes and at times it’s uncomfortable to watch, but it is handled expertly by Khalfoun, and acted with authenticity by Wood.
It’s definitely not Frodo on a killing spree!