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Hero Complex Film Festival: Maniac (Movie Review)

maniac whysoblu thumbFollowing the special screenings and Q&As for The Mist and the double-dose of Guillermo del Toro features, I was then able to catch a screening of the horror remake Maniac at the Hero Complex Film Festival in LA.  Maniac is a remake of an 80s horror feature of the same name and features the same basic story of depravity, as we follow a serial killer around and watch him scalp his female victims.  The separating factor for this version is how stylish it is.  Along with the 80s synth-infused soundtrack, Maniac is almost completely shot from the perspective of the killer, bringing a lot of credence to the challenging filmmaking techniques used to accomplish this.  However, deciphering between which is great, the style or the overall effectiveness of the film, is where the challenge in accepting Maniac really lies.

Frank:  Why are you scared?

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The film takes place on the streets of downtown LA.  Elijah Wood stars as Frank, a serial killer with a penchant for stalking female victims and taking their scalps.  Following these murderous nocturnal activities, Frank attaches the scalps to mannequins he keeps in the back of his store, an antique mannequin shop.  Frank is challenged by a new person in his life, once the photographer/artist Anna (Nora Arnezeder) takes an interest in the non-creepy work Frank does out in the open of his shop.  Of course, Frank’s murderous ways, amplified by hallucinations involving his prostitute mother, keep his more raw emotions bubbling at the surface and on the verge of spilling out onto his regular life, just as it does during the night.

Take away how this film stacks up to the original (which is good in the eyes of some, as opposed to all) and the flaws are quite clear.  Maniac may deliver the goods when it comes to gore effects, but it is also very repetitive.  We watch Frank stalk a woman, he does so, he sneaks up or chases after her, kills her, scalps her, and then goes home to get into a lot of weirdness with his mannequins.  This is fine a couple times, given that it is essentially what the audience is expecting, but one really has to be on board with this film, in order to not grow tired of what the film continues to present.

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Fortunately, I was able to look past this aspect to an extent, because the film’s technical aspects impressed me.  As mentioned, this version of Maniac is almost entirely shot from Frank’s perspective, and I mean that very literally, as the camera is a literal point of view of the character, allowing the audience to see what he sees, placing us within his mind, as he deals with his murderous activities, witnesses eerie hallucinations, and suffers from painful migraines.   Director Franck Khalfoun clearly created a challenge for himself and his crew, as you can tell how difficult it would be to make a film with that constant perspective, given how much of Wood’s character we get to see.  The visual and practical effects in general are quite good overall, even as it relies on a high level of graphic violence, because a film tends to have an effect on me when I see something that I can’t exactly figure out how it was accomplished on my first viewing.

Another key aspect to making this film tolerable is Elijah Wood’s performance.  As Frank, without having too much of himself to put onto screen, Wood’s constant dialogue and narration is effective enough to keep the film’s creepy/darkly amusing atmosphere intact throughout.  This is easily the darkest role Wood has played, even more so than his small part in Sin City, and he shines with the material that he has to work with.  I cannot say the same about the other members of the cast, despite how limited their work may be, but Wood really sells this role.

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Then you have the score by Rob.  The score for Maniac has the right kind of feel to really establish a certain mood for the film that evokes 80s horror.  More interesting, however, is that it really makes the film sync up with something like Drive of all films, which can be considered a comparable feature, given the nature of the characters involved and what you can decipher from both protagonists, given what they do to people and how they act under normal circumstances.  Regardless, score can go a long way in making a film work better than it should, and it certainly helps a lot in Maniac.

To appreciate Maniac, you basically have to accept the film for what it is:  a fairly standard slasher picture, with an intriguing take on perspective, as we follow along from a cleverly framed point of view for the majority of the film.  In terms of story, the film does not break any new ground, but from a filmmaking standpoint, there is a lot to admire in this film.  Elijah Wood’s dark turn was also an interesting performance to watch, even if his actions become quite repetitive, as the film goes on.  Not a huge success, but a more interesting horror remake than many that are made.

Frank:  Please don’t scream, you’re so beautiful.

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Learn more about Hero Complex Film Festival 2013 by clicking on the poster below:

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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