FrightFest 2012: Maniac first reaction

Frodo goes loco...

Elijah Wood is a long way from the Shire in Maniac, a film that proves not all slasher remakes are pointless - or, indeed, bloodless.

Screened in FrightFest's late-night Saturday slot, Franck Khalfoun’s first-person stalk-and-scalp scenes are so graphic they’re likely to incur BBFC interference before Maniac gets a cinema release.

An update of William Lustig’s notoriously grubby 1980 shocker from the French filmmakers behind The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and Piranha (2010), Maniac Mark II follows mannequin restorer Frank (Wood) as he hunts and kills stray women.

“Hair is the only part of the body that lives forever," he reasons as he staples fresh scalps to his army of blank-faced dummies.

Despite Oedipal issues that would make Norman Bates blush, Frank strikes up a relationship with pretty French photographer Anna (Arnezeder), but happily ever after might be a bit too much to hope for.

What sets Maniac apart from the cash-in crowd is the fact it is shot almost entirely from Frank’s POV, like an extreme episode of Peep Show.

As a formal experiment it’s dazzling – and worrying, the perfectly calibrated camerawork placing Frank’s knife squarely in the viewers’ hands.

Glimpsed in mirrors and overheard in internal monologue, Wood is effectively cast against type, the SFX are stomach-churning and the lush synth score (think Drive meets Dario Argento) disarmingly gorgeous.

No matter how many times Frank scours his skin until it bleeds, there’s no escaping the fact he’s just a sick little puppy with a by-the-numbers backstory.

And while the film more than fulfils its intentions – putting us slickly in the shoes of a sicko we’d cross cities to avoid – there’s something uncomfortable about applying such artistry to such sleaze.

Horrible and compelling, often both at once, Maniac 2012 may be grot, but it’s expertly gilded grot.
 

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