FILM REVIEW: Maniac (2012)

As a fan of the original 1980 film Maniac...I can only come to one conclusion regarding the remake: The new 2012 film Maniac  is unequivocally an exceptional film. And I'm not talking remake standards, either. It is an honest-to-goodness great cinematic experience that truly stands on its own merits.

Now, going into this film...I honestly didn't know what to expect. I've seen the elegant European trailers that pretty much hinted at the violence in store and the rich cinematography....but, I never expected the maddening depth this version of Maniac  so purely possesses. It is an exquisite journey into the psychosis of a deeply disturbed individual yearning for a love he will never sanely have. An immediately doomed man with no happy ending in sight.

Perhaps the most recognizable name to any fan of the genre is Mr Alexandre Aja's. Director/writer of High Tension and Mirrors as well as playing the remake game with his stellar versions of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha. With Maniac, Aja is relegated to screenplay and producer roles while Franck Khalfoun (P2) is in the director's chair. Khalfoun really does a great job of handling the specific "gimmick" for this film...the POV camera. It's no secret that this film is seen through our main character's eyes so, most of the camerawork is POV-style. Initially, that was my biggest worry of a film like this...however, Khalfoun handles everything with the skill of a seasoned POV porno filmmaker.

Elijah Wood is Frank Zito in this version of Maniac. You may be familiar with "Crazy Wood" from his roles in Sin City  and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as well as his hilarious stints in the Funny or Die segments...but, he really embraces the role of Frank Zito in this picture. If Joe Spinell was the completely unhinged bull in a China shop version of Zito then, Wood is the more subtle and calculating doppelganger. His performance in the new film really is a sight to behold. While both versions of Zito are as tragic as they come, Wood really puts a certain depth into his portrayal that almost makes you root for his happy ending.

I'm sure you already know the basic premise of Maniac...but, for the uninitiated, the film follows Frank Zito as he surrenders to his warped desires which involve stalking lovely young women and ultimately scalping their various manes in which to adorn onto the heads of the many mannequins that he keeps in his place. One of the primary deviations from the original story is that the Frank from this new film has inherited his mother's mannequin restoration business. It's never really clear what happened to his mother in this retelling but, we do get the idea that she is a sex-crazed whore who will never be considered for any kind of "mother-of-the-year" awards through vivid flashbacks. It is pretty goddamn clear that Frank is a psychopath as a result of his mother's negligent childcare.

Most of the beats echo those of the original film...except with a new twist to certain things. Anna (Nora Arnezeder) is still a lovely photographer that Frank falls for...but, here she is handled differently in an almost platonic way. Which further adds to the character depth displayed in the film. It is as if the entire film is told in a much sadder way rather than just showcasing the frenetic bipolar acting chops of Mr. Joe Spinell. It dances around the obvious condition of Zito's deteriorating mental state and pushes the story further into oblivion. All while Wood's apparent charm forces you to pray for the guy's well-being. There's even a face-ripping scene at the film's finale which gets so much deeper than the what the original ever envisioned. It's an emotionally-driven POV tour-de-force.

And the brilliant special effects only help solidify Maniac  as one of the year's best horror films. I'm sure there was some CGI involved in post...but, goddamn! The SFX in the film is among the best I've seen in years. Decades. It helps that the audience is emotionally invested to the entire story, which suspends the believability of the eye candy. There's also a nice homage to the original artwork of the film via a car reflection. If I had any real gripe in the SFX department, it would have to be in the sorely missed "shotgun blast scene" from the original. Would've been a really cool throwback to the original to include a nicely-produced Scanners-esque head explosion via shotgun in some way.

Speaking of gripes and flaws...I'm really at a loss of words in this category. Perhaps if I had to think about one, it would be that this film is a remake of a beloved genre classic. I wish that I were gushing about an original piece of cinematic filmmaking instead of a rehash of something that was good in the first place. Still, a film is a film no matter the motive of its inception. I love that the filmmakers literally shot this iteration from a different point of view. I love that they took chances. And I love that they respected the original film while also creating something altogether new.

Maniac  is horror cinema that you cannot miss. I know I go around telling you guys to see all these really cool horror films for entertainment's sake...but, this film is different. It is a step in the right direction as far as remakes go. And it is an absolute jump in quality as far as horror films go. Where the original Maniac  introduced us to the manic world of Frank Zito, 2012's Maniac digs much deeper into his mind and shows us the ugly beauty within the abandonment of sanity. Is it weird that I kind of identify with this Frank a little? Highly recommended.

Thanks for reading,