"Maniac" is a modern horror film which strives to achieve something different from most of it's slasher brethren, but doesn't turn it's back on the genre's gory, depraved roots. Having premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in France in May of 2012, this remake of the low budget 1980 film of the same name finally received a moderate release stateside in late 2013.
The film stars Elijah Wood as an average Joe who can't seem to stop himself from killing people on a regular basis and Nora Arnezeder ("Safe House", "Paris 36") as the eventual object of his unstable affections. Wood may seem an odd choice for the role of Frank (the "Maniac" of the title), but is impressive in his portrayal of a deeply troubled soul. His turn in "Maniac" is made even more noteworthy by the fact that it is largely a vocal performance as he's rarely seen onscreen (unless Frank happens to catch a glimpse of himself in a mirror). There's not much to the plot, but Wood's character keeps the viewer engaged, and when Nora Arnezeder's Anna enters the picture things move along swiftly and interestingly with a degree of dread and tension.
Maybe it's the use of so much bright pink in the advertising for Franck Khalfoun's "Maniac", but the act of watching it brings to mind visions of Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive". The bright, fluorescent visual aesthetic of the film, which one wouldn't necessarily expect to work for horror movie, succeeds for 2 reasons: First, it is simply visually appealing. Second, it sets this remake far apart from the 1980 original which, like it or not, is rather ugly.
The decision to present about 95% of the film from the first person perspective of Frank isn't nearly as annoying as it may sound. First person views in slasher films are far from a new idea and there is a reason that they're utilized so frequently. They allow the viewer to get up close and personal with the emotions of the antagonist's victims. As Heath Ledger's Joker puts it in "The Dark Knight", "In their last moments people show you who they really are." What Khalfoun achieves by putting the audience in his killer's head all the time rather than just when the blood is about to flow is that we, the viewer, don't just get to live vicariously through his moonlit maimings...we're forced to play out every part of his troubled existence. In the case of "Maniac", this includes Frank's regret, his inability to control his urges, his painful memories, and his isolation. Anyone who has watched a season of "Dexter" knows that there can be a lot more to a fictional serial killer than just an uncontrollable hatred for his or her fellow man, but "Maniac" attempts to show a less idealized, though equally sympathetic murderer.
As with the previously mentioned "Drive", "Maniac" certainly won't be for everyone, but it is absolutely worth a look for anyone with more than a passing interest in horror films or the slasher genre. And for those with just a passing interest in slasher movies, there are at least a few noteworthy death scenes to keep your attention.