Film Review: MANIAC (directed by Franck Khalfoun)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on June 17, 2013

in Film


Based on William Lustig’s 1980 film of the same name, Maniac, directed by Franck Khalfoun and penned by Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur, has dynamic cinematography (Maxime Alexandre), gore effects that are frighteningly realistic (KNB Mike McCarty), and a performance by Nora Arnezeder as Anna which, though idling in the earlier scenes, really revs up towards the end. Jan Broberg also manages to deliver in her small role as Rita, a talent agent. Unfortunately little else is redeemable about this artless, disgusting and irretrievably stupid horror flick.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of "Maniac," directed by Franck Khalfoun.

Maniac tells the story of a psychotic mannequin restorer named Frank (Elijah Wood), who murders and scalps beautiful women – not necessarily in that order – then staples their scalps to the heads of his female mannequins which he imagines to be his girlfriends. Frank’s antisocial behavior is somehow related to – wait for it – his lurid fascination and the love/hate relationship he had as a child with his promiscuous mother (America Olivo). These conceptual elements seem to be begging to be the foundation for a campy, ironic, horror-comedy. Unfortunately, as evidenced by this film at any rate, neither Mr. Khalfoun nor his screenwriting team appear to have anything resembling a sense of irony or humor.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of "Maniac," directed by Franck Khalfoun.

It’s a wonder that it took two writing minds to come up with a script that is so fatally lacking in everything one associates with sound screenwriting. Mr. Aja’s and Mr. Levasseur’s creation has no real characters, no meaningful conflict, not a word of compelling or even interesting dialogue, no truthful observations, no insights. And it cheats constantly; their story points are so convenient and ludicrous that one wonders if at some stage perhaps the events in Maniac were intended to be Frank’s fantasy or dream – which wouldn’t make the film any better but would only create a different set of problems.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of "Maniac," directed by Franck Khalfoun.

It was surprising to learn that the film’s director, Mr. Khalfoun, is in his mid-forties, as the frivolity and ineptness of the filmmaking suggests someone much younger. But for a few exceptions the entire film is shot from Frank’s point of view. This stylistic choice might have had cache if Frank was a rich personage or if Mr. Khalfoun was capable of building tension using this technique. But as it is, the POV angle doesn’t add anything to the movie. On the contrary, it appears to make acting very difficult for the performers, most so perhaps for Mr. Wood. An actor capable of delivering sharp renditions – he was perfect in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – here it sounds like Mr. Wood is saying his lines from a voiceover booth somewhere far away. He never feels believable, even in the brief moments when he’s in front of the camera, and neither do most of the other players, which makes one suspect that the director did not give them what they needed to do their jobs properly.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of "Maniac," directed by Franck Khalfoun.

photos © La Petite Reine/Lacey Terrell and Daniel McFadden

IFC Midnight
France – 2012 – Color – English – not rated – 89 min
opening theatrically at the IFC Center and on VOD June 21, 2013

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