Maybe it’s a sign of getting older, but there was a time when nothing used to faze us. We liked our horror movies to be as gory as possible. We were of the recent generation when torture porn was the standard in all of our horror movies: Hostel, Human Centipede. Movies like seemed like such a long time ago. Surely horror films couldn’t get more graphic than that!
How wrong we were.
Maniac is perhaps the most overtly graphic horror film of recent recollection.
It stars Elijah Wood as a disturbed young man who works restores antique shop mannequins. We never find out who his customers are or from whence he gets his income but we do have a pretty good understanding of how he spends his evenings: he follows young women back to their homes and he mutilates them in the most appalling ways. When he encounters a beautiful young photographer who seems to connect with him, Wood grows confused and we become worried. There is only one way this can end.
The big twist is that almost the entire film is shot from Wood’s first person perspective where we can also hear his thoughts. Just imagine an episode of Peep Show where Mark cuts Dobby open with a hunting knife. The effect is undeniably powerful — it doesn’t cut away from the horror and we are made to witness every gruesome moment like some Clockwork Orange experiment. It’s as though we are being held hostage and forced to comply with his horrific acts.
It’s obviously a very capable film, made by people with love of the serial killer genre. There are definite references to Psycho and one scene where a victim plays Goodbye Horses on her stereo (best known as that song from Silence of the Lambs where he tucks his junk between his legs). But there’s a much deeper connection to 1960’s Peeping Tom. Directed by the revered British film maker Michael Powell, Peeping Tom was about a seemingly mild young man (Carl Boehm) who murders young women and films it with a handheld camera. It was a psychologically complex thriller that proved too challenging for the mainstream audiences of the day. It revealed the character’s tortured past in a way that gave us insight into why he became a serial killer. The power of the movie comes from Powell’s ability to make us sympathise with a true monster.
You get the feeling that writer/producer Alexandre Aja (Switchblade Romance) and director Franck Khalfoun wanted to go for the same effect. The only problem is that there was never any point in the film where we didn’t think Elijah Wood was about to kill a woman. And when he wasn’t killing women, he was doing mad stuff like talking to bloody mannequins. Though they try to fit in a love story of sorts, none of it sinks in enough for us to believe their emotional connection — we were probably distracted by all the scalping taking place.
Over the 90 minute run time, you will bear witness to a lot of brutality violence and you will leave the cinema feeling like you’ve just watched 10 snuff films back to back. For what it tries to achieve, Maniac is probably a four star film but one that is really tough to recommend. If it sounds like something that will intrigue you, then by all means watch it. If you have anything less than the strongest of constitutions when it comes to blood, we recommend you give the film a wide berth.
Maniac is in cinemas this Friday. You have been warned.