Mikey's Movie Review—
MANIAC (1 out of 5 stars)
When the streets are seemingly safe, a serial killer with a fetish for scalps is on the hunt. Frank (played with absolutely no gusto by Elijah Wood) is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store. His life changes a bit when young French artist Anna (Nora Arnezeder) appears asking for his help with her new exhibition after watching him work on his “mannequin art” in his studio. As their friendship develops and Frank’s obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has heightened his compulsion to stalk and kill to a deeper level. The film begins, interestingly enough, with a hard-to-sell gimmick that captivated me immediately: it is presented through Frank’s own eyes—from his intimate point of view. The only time we see his face is in mirrors, reflections, etc. This absolutely may have worked if we could, or even wanted to, identify with the character Elijah Wood is playing. Yet instead of giving its audience something to empathize or connect with, Wood’s character is stereo-typically given what I like to call “Norman Bates Syndrome”. The generic reason we are asked to swallow is that he kills out of hate for his late abusive mother. And not only does he kill…he mutilates, tortures, and relishes in what he is doing from the beginning, leaving us with little shock value by the film’s silly & redundant conclusion. There is only one redeeming character in “Maniac” named Anna, an artist who finds herself intrigued by Frank’s “work” & asks for his help in her own upcoming projects. Of course he obliges & (no surprise to the audience) becomes enamored by her, growing more & more obsessed with her every day. The same problems exist between the writing of Anna & Frank’s characters. Neither is written to detail or fleshed out enough that we actually give any care about what happens to them. They are both one-dimensional horror movie cutouts that show us nothing new about the mind of a maniac or the smarts of a heroine. We should be rooting for Anna yet eventually find that we don’t care about her as the writer intended. By the time “Maniac” seems to be ending, we are only wondering when it’s going to end! At times the film also forgets its “point of view” gimmick briefly, slipping into a full-showing of Elijah Wood’s Frank and thus making the gimmick seem unimportant. Wood is never given the opportunity to make anything of substance out of his horribly written character, so unfortunately his acting comes across as forced, awkward, and more often than not—plain silly. “Maniac” is more interested in gratuitous gore than suspense. The violent scenes here are far worse than one could imagine. Brutal, bloody, nasty, sick, and anguishing are all terms which are too gentle to describe it. It is also illogical & rigid, never paying mind to originality or even realizing it has become a box full of nothing but contrived acting & gratuitousness. The violence does not aide the movie in revealing its central character to us, nor does it provide anything more than disgust to its plot. To be fair, a movie such as this requires violence to make it work, but this is above & beyond violence…it is overkill. There’s nothing about “Maniac” to set it apart from the countless other films about countless other psychos who kill countless other women. Perhaps the film’s biggest issue is that it gives us a faceless, daunting, institutional mold for a main character. Wood’s Frank is a character I do not understand, but some insight rather than recycled Hollywood jargon may have helped this clunker-of-a-movie along. Had it centered on one of its victims rather than its killer, at least the audience would have had something somewhat identifiable to cling on to. Simply put, I suppose the mannequin metaphor is best: “Maniac” is ultimately just a piece of plastic (and that’s putting it nicely).