With the stamp of approval of IFC Midnight and surface-value-by-association with Canal+, you’d think director Franck Khalfoun’s remake of the forgotten D-grade 1980 slasher flick of the same title might just offer some depth or -- if not that -- at least novelty. But really, "Maniac" so pointless, unsuspenseful, and outright pedestrian it would be campy if it didn’t take itself so hopelessly, horribly seriously.
Elijah Wood plays Frank, a man with mommy issues who restores old mannequins. He also stalks and scalps the most witless women likely to have ever graced the screen. Then he meets Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a French photographer who specializes in capturing the beauty of -- surprise! -- mannequins. Is she his salvation from depravity? Will she simply become his next victim? Will you still be awake to find out?
Told almost entirely from Frank’s POV (we only see him when he catches glimpses of himself in mirrors, windows, and the like), the film has the gritty lo-fi look of ’80s-era slashers (the score by a composer named Rob using Casio-sounding synthesizers also sets the mood). Unfortunately, the film also retains the misogyny and rampant nudity (of only the females, of course) of those flicks, not to mention their level of acting. The girls are so stupid (running down an alley instead of into the street?), they’re almost more mindless than the script (no security cameras in the lobby of a high-class condo building?).
Clearly, Wood wants to change up his image, but why this? There’s no redeeming value to it whatsoever. He’s good in general, but his presence isn’t strong enough to carry a role that is 95% voiceover.
The torture of women in horror films is nothing new, and whether you like that or not, there are ways to do it with some panache. This movie, however, doesn’t even revel in their torment. We spend an inordinate amount of time with Frank stalking and killing his prey, yet somehow the sequences still don’t provide the most basic titillation let alone resonance.
Screenwriters Aja and Levasseur have collaborated on far superior films ("High Tension") and even mediocre-but-still-superior-to-this projects ("Mirrors," "The Hills Have Eyes" remake), so it’s difficult to see what the aim was here. "High Tension" may have been undone by its ridiculous twist, but for nine-tenths of the film, it was riveting. "Maniac," with its 89-minute running time, is still about 60 minutes too long in terms of the story it’s telling. And there isn’t even a twist to give it some kick, or at least to piss viewers off.
Slashers are called out as mindless all the time, but usually there are at least some thrills, some jolts, some creative kills or inspired gore. "Maniac" offers nothing new or suspenseful or frightening or disturbing or even sensational. It’s so bad it’s not even offensive; it’s just boring.
But, hey, it’s still better than this year’s "Texas Chainsaw." Take that for what you will.