The main reason why I attended the marathon on Sunday was Maniac. I had to see with my own eyes, swallow and then try to be as objective as possible and deliver a fair verdict.
To be honest when I heard of the project, involving Alexandre Aja and Grégory Lavasseur, my feelings were conflicting. On one hand, as a true fan of William Lustig’s original Maniac with Joe Spinell as Frank Zito, and considering the disappointments I’m experiencing regarding remakes, I thought it was completely unnecessary and risky. On the other hand, knowing that the two French pals were in charge of the script, although I don’t like much Aja’s last projects behind the cameras, it was something quite attractive, enough as to give it a try. The response to the first screenings was surprisingly positive, with both the critics and the audience agreeing this new Maniac was spectacular.
Frank (Elijah Wood) is an attractive guy in his 30’s who works restoring old mannequins. He’s also a mentally disturbed serial killer moved by his main target: collecting scalps from young beautiful women, to bring out his favorite mannequins into life, personalizing them as his victims, in order to keep them as company.
Despite his detachment from society, mainly due to his obsessions and schizophrenic paranoia episodes in which his dead mother (America Olivo), a vicious and very promiscuous woman, is the main protagonist, he’s still able to become friends with a beautiful French photographer named Anna (Nora Arnazeder), who happened to discover the restored mannequins exposed in his shop window. Her fascination for Frank’s work closely related to her portfolio, will be decisive for the killer having an obsessive crush on her which he’ll be disguising as friendship so he can get close to her. Anna means what the others can’t be, she’s pure, humble, friendly… and is interested in Frank in an innocent and honest way.
It’s inevitable to compare this remake with the original. There are many things in common, but there are enormous changes.
I like the fact that Frank’s surname is not abused of in the whole movie, as a tribute to the great character Lustig created. The serial killers are completely different. Joe Spinell’s Zito was disgusting in his appearance, fat, old, sweaty, very insane and disturbing. Wood’s Frank is a skinny pale guy with intense blue eyes, considered cute and attractive by some women, isolated at the store, restoring the mannequins, yet contacting with society for achieving his purposes.
There are several things related to this Frank I enjoyed lots. On one hand his physical deterioration evolves according to his mental breakage. His hallucinations happen more often and get worse every time, up to unbearable limits. From the very beginning we see he takes medication which seems to work, but as the story goes on, the effect diminishes. Wood is really convincing in his role, very well done.
Anna is the symbol of purity and innocence embodied in a beautiful woman. For the first time, she’s the one who approaches Frank, enthusiastic about his restoration work. The sensibility towards the mannequins, considering them as living creatures, moves the killer. They meet and spend time together, and he stalks her in the distance, not in a hunting mood, but in love.
The executions are rad! The opening scene gave me the goose bumps, super explicit, mean and brutal, perfect to please the splatter lovers. I thought of early Aja’s films, with those brutal murders that affected you right in the belly, if you know what I mean.
The use of the subjective camera technique from Frank’s perspective, and the situations created with mirrors, to see the killer reflected, are fabulous. Classic horror had this idea before of course, you just have to remember little Mike Myers in Halloween, or The Boston Strangler. But the effect achieved here, helps the viewer to be Frank for a while, creating this suffocating and claustrophobic feeling.
The city is not as filthy as Lustig’s, but it recovers the essence of the 80s. Dark and wet streets, those built-to-be-rape-alleys, the scent of danger… it’s fantastic. It’s also remarkable the soundtrack, very 80s too. Both outdoors locations and the soundtrack have lots in common with Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Aesthetics does matter, and it’s meticulously handled.
It’s compulsory to congratulate the director, Franck Khalfoun, for a great job done, of course, but I have Alexandre Aja and Grégory Lavasseur in my head, as the script writers, and I’m convinced the influence and participation in the project was very prominent, because while watching the film, Aja was present there.
The Maniac experience was quite worthy, and the result was surprisingly positive. This is an example of how a good remake can be decently delivered, without insulting the original one, yet keeping its own identity.
One of the peak moments of the festival definitely.