That’s not to say this update isn’t gory — oh, boy, is it ever — but it has a style the first film sorely lacked. Admittedly, Lustig had little budget to work with back then, whereas P2 helmer Franck Khalfoun enjoyed a $6 million sandbox, now clumped with blood.
Playing aggressively against his nice-guy rep, former Hobbit Elijah Wood is Frank. To put it bluntly — should something titled Maniac have it any other way? — Frank is into preying upon lovely young women, stabbing them (anywhere will do) and then slicing off their scalps. These trophies he trots home to place upon the mannequins with which he lives, not to mention assumes are real.
It’s safe to assume Frank is troubled by seriously unsettled Mommy issues. That’s bound to happen when the kindergartner you hiding in a closet watches your coked-up whore of a mother (America Olivo, 2009’sthe 13th) ball a couple guys at once … and she knows it. You’ll really feel for the kid who pops up in flashbacks, but the grown-up version? Not so much. Frank is so hopelessly flipped, he scrubs his hands with steel wool.
Where Lustig went for grit, Khalfoun goes for art. This Maniac has a sheen to it — the same kind co-producer/co-writer Alexandre Aja has brought to his own works (most notably Piranha 3D and High Tension). Things look as slick as the September issue of Vogue — appropriate, given that Frank’s mentally unhinged world is rocked when he meets a hip, hot, French photographer (Nora Arnezeder, Safe House).
The camera loves her, whereas it hardly glimpses. This is purely on purpose, as Khalfoun’s biggest change-up from the original is putting the audience in Frank’s POV. Much of the movie is handheld, with the camera attached to Wood, who’s seen almost exclusively in mirrors.
IFC’s Blu-ray houses a one-hour documentary that shows how some of these visual tricks were pulled off. They’re as impressive as they are ambitious, helping make Maniac a higher-mind exercise than viewers would expect from a string of senseless murders. Still, there’s a scene that even someone as desensitized as I found tough to watch, so peace be with the super-squeamish who attempt to give it a go. You’ll need it. —Rod Lott
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