I haven't seen William Lustig's original film from which director Franck Khalfoun's Maniac is based. Apparently it's a cult classic, but I hadn't heard of it until this remake/reimagining came around, but from what I've read the chief difference between the two is Khalfoun's attempt at a first person narrative. Whoop-dee-woo!
The name of the man whose life we will be living is Frank (Elijah Wood). You see, Frank's mom was a whore that liked to have threesomes at home and sex on the sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles. Frank looked on, but was eventually asked to go wait for her in the car. You know, because he might get cold. Anyway, he grew up with some issues.
Frank now runs Angela's Mannequins where he restores mannequins and dresses them up with the bloody scalps of the women he kills whilst trundling around Los Angeles. Yes, Frank is a serial killer. A serial killer with mommy issues so it's really deep territory we're getting into here.
After killing a couple of girls early on, Frank notices someone snapping photos outside his shop. He raises the metal gate and we meet Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a chatty little photographer with a love of mannequins... if you can believe that. They get to chatting and we get such back-and-forth witty banter as Frank asking if her accent is French to which she replies, "Oui, you have a good ear." Good ear? It's a French accent, not Klingon.
The whole film plays like this, which is to say it feels 100% fake. You know the online video sex chat rooms you see in movies? It feels like that. For example, one girl Frank meets invites him back to her apartment where she starts rattling off a series of unnatural dialogue read with absolutely zero inflection, ruining any measure of reality. "Want me to put on some music? I love this song, dance with me. I wanted to slip into something a little more comfortable. Wanna touch 'em? Your hands are warm. Squeeze 'em." If the screen had cut to black and asked me to put in another dollar it would have seemed more natural than anything that takes place in this movie.
It also doesn't help that not only are we seeing the film through Frank's eyes, but he speaks out loud as if the audience is too stupid to comprehend what's going on. Maniac would have played better as a nearly silent film rather than have us watch Frank as he sex chats with a woman online and reads back to us what he's typing.
Further along, Frank chases women through empty Los Angeles streets while battling with his migraines and childhood flashbacks and it's a complete waste of time. Okay, maybe not a complete waste of time, it has some great makeup effects.
Frank is scalping women left and right and the film's finale is a splatter house of gore and it is some truly impressive work. Unfortunately, the attempt to put the audience in the place of the killer and really allow these gruesome moments to take hold is lost as a result of attempting to put is in the place of a stereotypical psychotic killer, rather than someone any of us may be able to connect with.
If we're going to do this POV gimmick, I would have preferred almost a Falling Down-type scenario, but dialed back quite a bit. Someone we could imagine ourselves being. We go to Starbucks and the grocery store. We take a shower, eat dinner and watch some television. However, over the course of the film the character would be faced with the moments from all of our lives that annoy us and suddenly the character finds themselves on edge, pushed to the limit and ultimately deciding to do what they would normally consider morally wrong.
Give the audience a chance to contemplate or at least debate the justification of what's going on rather than just have us watch as the lead character slices a woman's scalp off and looks in a mirror for the one hundredth time.
In fact, there's a moment in the film where Frank and Anne go to the movies and it got me thinking how great it would have been to end the movie in a movie theater given the above scenario. We see him purchase his ticket, walk through the doors, buy a popcorn and enter the theater. He searches for a seat, sits down and suddenly looks around realizing everyone in the audience has blank faces, much like his mannequins. Essentially to say Frank is all of us as much as he is none of us. Cut to black, roll credits. That, to me, would have been something to talk about. This movie is best left forgotten.