Director: Franck Khalfoun (‘P2’)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder (‘Safe House,’ ‘The Words’) and Megan Duffy (TV’s ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Criminal Minds’)
Instinctively creating sympathy for a seemingly deranged killer who commits horrific, violent crimes against women is not an easy job many people would rightfully consider taking. That task is even more difficult when it’s done through the reimagination of a famed cult horror thriller. But horror director Franck Fhalfoun did both with ‘Maniac,’ the new independent remake of the hit 1980 film of the same name by helmer William Lustig. Not only did Fhalfoun captivatingly and uniquely chronicle the emotions of a crazed serial killer through his point of view, the filmmaker also cleverly showcased the character’s motivations through a natural love story and clever cinematography and visual effects.
‘Maniac’ follows withdrawn mannequin store owner Frank (Elijah Wood), whose life changes when young photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder) appears at his store’s doorstep. She asks him for help with her new exhibition at a gallery, and the two quickly begin to form a friendship. But Frank’s obsession with Anna soon begins to escalate, and it becomes clear that she has unleashed his long-repressed compulsion to stalk and kill women. The psychologically complex horror thriller explores Frank’s unstoppable need to unleash fear in young women in modern day Los Angeles, after continuously witnessing his mother’s sexually promiscuous ways growing up.
Khalfoun bravely and effectively shot ‘Maniac’ through Frank’s point of view for the majority of the film, and captivatingly showcased the feelings of isolation the mannequin store owner felt throughout his life. With many of the shots of Wood being shown through reflections, and the situations Frank engages in shown through his perspective, the actor and director creatively showcased the psychologically damaged antagonists’ motivations through his eyes. Frank is still contending with the traumatic aftermath of his mother neglecting him when he was young, and his urges to kill women who remind him of her are cleverly explained through the flashbacks to his childhood.
Cinematographer Maxime Alexandre notably emphasized Frank’s urges to kill women he perceives to be unworthy by forming a close working bond with Wood. With the actor explaining to the cinematographer how he perceived the character’s views of the women he stalks, Alexandre distinctly used close-up shots to emphasize Frank’s sense of entitlement to killing his victims. Meanwhile, the cinematographer efficiently used wider shots when Frank encounters men, notably Anna’s friends at her gallery opening, showing his feelings of loss of control to people who could over power him.
Alexandre also effectively showcased Frank’s drive to kill women he deems unworthy through the dark, subdued colors he used to light the sets, particularly the mannequin store and his apartment. Frank initially only feels comfortable venturing into public under the guise of darkness and night, which visually emphasizes his desire not to be seen and judged as he stalks his latest victims. Frank’s world only becomes light after he develops a friendship with Anna, as he feels more comfortable stepping into public places and integrating into society under the protection of someone who does care for him. The places where the two build their trust with each other, from the sunlight infused park to the art deco inspired cinema where they spend time, visually reiterates Frank’s willingness to start a new life with someone who has expressed interest in him.
The beautifully captured and exquisite cinematography Alexandre incorporated into ‘Maniac,’ and the diverse range of motivations Wood infused into his character, were aided by the intriguing performance given by Arnezeder. While it would be difficult for many people to act naturally around a camera, and make it appear as though they’re technically speaking to another person, the actress genuinely overcame her initial feelings of intimidation. She formed a genuine bond with Wood, who was always on set and read lines with her, which effectively made it appear as though the two were actually forming a friendship on screen. The two actors’ instinctive relationship helped fuse the psychological aspects of Frank craving female affection and why he’s become a serial killer, with the characters’ instant bond with each other and why they’re never judgmental towards the other.
Khalfoun’s visually and emotionally captivating telling of ‘Maniac,’ which had the struggle to pay home to Lustig’s beloved cult classic while also incorporating his own unique elements, brilliantly lived up to the original horror thriller’s stature. From captivatingly showcasing the feelings of isolation and need for appreciation Frank feels as he kills his victims and forms a friendship with Anna through a daring point of view perspective, to the naturalistic cinematography by Alexandre, proved there can be a chilling horror story mixed with elements of love. The story memorably fused the psychological aspects of Frank craving female affection with the reasons why he’s become a serial killer, which will leave a lasting impression on horror fans.
Written by: Karen Benardello