Please don’t scream. You’re beautiful.
Elijah Wood is a man who has seemingly done everything he can to stop being typecast as fantasy characters after his role as Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings. Since then he has played a neuroscientist with stalkerish tendencies in the excellent “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, a hooligan in “Green Street” and the voice of a possessed puppet in the animated “9”, and he continues that trend in Maniac, a remake.
I’ve got severely mixed feelings about remakes. Some fall into the excellent side of the argument. The Thing (1982) and The Fly (1986), Night of the Living Dead (1990) and Dawn of the Dead (2004), for example, are a few of my favourite films and all are remakes, however, I could probably sit here for a long time and list films that are shockingly poor remakes, so I am always cautious when it comes to watching remakes.
I first heard about Maniac whilst on the London Underground and a very large poster, however, upon searching for when it was on in or near where I was living at the time (Newark), the nearest showings were all in London. Infact, outside of London there didn’t seem to be any showings anywhere. I found myself asking the question “How good can a film really be if it’s not being shown at 99% of the cinemas in the country but isn’t straight to DVD?” Don’t get me wrong, some of my favourite films didn’t come out at the cinema, such as the previously reviewed “Exit Humanity”, but something always strikes me as unnerving about a film that some have deemed good enough to be released at a cinema, but only a very, very small percentage.
Frank Zito (Wood) is a mentally disturbed man that leads a double life. By day he is the respectable owner of the family’s mannequin business, by night he is a murderer. With his mother being a prostitute during his childhood, Zito struggles to develop relationships with women other than one of antagonism and eventual murder. He experiences several dates, all of which end in the demise of the girl, and even openly stalks one off of a train before killing her in an alleyway.
Zito seems increasingly unable to live a normal life and his apartment turns into a testament of that as numerous insects gather around the dead bodies he stores around the place.
Just when all appears to be collapsing around him, he meets a French woman called Anna (Arnezeder) and the develop a relationship. She knows something is wrong with Frank but can’t quite place it but choices to ignore the comments made by her friends about Frank’s behaviour.
So, was it good enough to stay away from the “straight-to-DVD” club but out of main cinema distribution?
Let’s start with the few positives that there are from the film. Firstly, Zito keeps the body of an early kill in his bedroom throughout the film, and you gradually see it decompose and become surrounded my flies. Just having that level of detail and reveal into his mental instability is excellent.
Wood continues his excellent path away from the land of Lord of the Rings and from typecasting in this excellent portrayal of Zito. His acting in this film is excellent, which is a large testament given that he is barely on the screen for the majority of it’s 90 minute run time. The film is shot from his first-person perspective and therefore Wood himself is actually not on screen that often and for me, not seeing him is one of the main problems that the film has.
Being shot entirely in first person perspective is highly unusual and I can’t recall seeing a film take a similar approach for that length of time. It has tried something new and that is always something to get excited about, however, whilst it is innovative, it is also restrictive. Because you can only hear Zito is saying and/or thinking, it’s hard to really get his sense of confliction without being able to see his face on the majority of occasions. The best actors show you their true emotions by facial expressions and one such example I will give is from the recently reviewed “J’ai tué ma mère” where one of the character has a look on her face where she is desperately trying to hide her emotions from Hubert, and just being able to see the confliction in a facial expression is far more impactful than hearing the thought of confliction directly.
First person isn’t all bad though and seeing a murder through the eyes of the killer in a movie is actually quite cool in many ways. Even in films where there is some first person killing (such as Doom), it’s not done overly well or you don’t quite get the feeling for the killing like you do with Maniac.
The pacing throughout the film is poor and even though it is 90 minutes too long, it is hard to argue against it feeling too long as it isn’t paced well at all. In many ways the film is similar to “American Psycho” in terms of the plot, but the reason that works so well as “Maniac” doesn’t is because it paces well, has excellent filler and a lot of excellent subplots to enhance the scenes of murder. “Maniac” doesn’t really have any of those and often feels forced. One such poor filler in Maniac is that Zito keeps getting visions of the girls he has already killed, and that feels so forced that it’s not actually that interesting.
I found this film ultimately disappointing. The trailer made it look reasonable but I found it to be very slow, generally uninteresting and other than the final 20 or so minutes, completely unengaging. Whilst not completely awful, it’s definitely a bit “meh”. To put this into some context, I would put this into the group of films that I call “Watch once and be comfortable in the fact you will not watch it again!” I am certainly glad I didn’t travel to London to watch the film.
Wood is wonderful creepy and believable as Zito and his contribution to the film is the highlight of this 90 minute film that is otherwise lacking in good supporting characters.