Alfred Hitchcock was an influential director, no doubt about it, but some films show his influence more than others. I reviewed Martin Scorsese’s homage to Hitchcock, Cape Fear, where we saw how not to do it and then Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill for how to get it right. If those films were the good and the bad, Maniac would be the ugly.
Elijah Wood is Fred, a troubled mannequin collector who kills and scalps women, putting the hair on his mannequins so he can interact with them. When a French artist called Anna (Nora Arnezeder) comes into his life wanting to use his mannequins in an exhibition, will he be able to control his urges?
I have described this film as the ugly because it has the gore of a low rent slasher movie, combined with arthouse aspirations. Almost the entire film is shown from the literal viewpoint of Fred, meaning Wood gets very little screen time. It’s an interesting technique, and makes the film stand out from the crowd. I’m not sure I would want to see many more films done this way, but it certainly presents a unique way of putting us in a character’s shoes. Strangely I think it actually results in us getting to know the character less well. He is a very quiet, shy man, so doesn’t have much dialogue. If we could see his facial expressions it would give us a far better idea of what’s going on in his head than literally watching the film through his eyes.
The techniques used to show the whole thing from Fred’s perspective are seamlessly blended so we see him looking at his own reflection then round a room without cutting away. But the clever visuals extend to the gore, too, which is some of the most graphic and realistic I’ve ever seen. The scalping scenes are hard to watch, as a victim goes from living, moving and breathing, to having the skin ripped from their head without the camera cutting away. And it doesn’t look like CGI either. A lot of effort has clearly been put in to making the graphic violence as real as possible, and they certainly achieve their aim.
Having killings done in the first person makes this like Peeping Tom, a film which, to my shame, I have still to see. Viewing the world through the eyes of a killer contributes to the Hitchcockian sense of voyeurism. But more importantly the psychosexual motives of the killer, and his very serious mommy issues, make this feel like an extension of Psycho‘s themes and ideas. Combine this with the title, and the token shower attack scene and Hitchcock’s influence is clear.
Where this film differs from Cape Fear and Dressed to Kill is that it borrows very little stylistically from Hitchcock. Part of this is obviously due to the filming technique used, but it also employs a contemporary soundtrack of disconcerting electronic music.
But is it any good? As a film it takes itself very seriously, and couldn’t really be called fun in any sense. But it’s also not groundbreaking enough to be great. A man with a creepy sexual obsession killing women is nothing new, even if it is well done. With an extra twist or addition of something clever, this could have brilliant. Instead it’s merely average.