It takes a special kind of director to really pull off an 80's remake. Franck Khalfoun manages to nail the noir effect in his reboot of the infamous William Lustig slasher Maniac. Evoking the same neon-soaked grime found in recent throwback gems like Drive and Hobo With A Shotgun, everything from the lighting to the synth soundtrack are an homage to the low budget cult cinema of that decade.
Khalfoun makes two major changes to the formula of the original. He sets the story on the "left coast" in Los Angeles, and uses a fairly consistent first person perspective to put us "in the mind of the killer" Frank Zito. Unfortunately I don't feel like this always worked. Elijah Wood does an excellent job as Zito. Further proving he can be absolutely terrifying after his villainous performance in Sin City, Wood never fails at convincing us he is mentally unwound. Unfortunately the POV camera work does a disservice since we rarely get to see him interacting with any other characters, which I felt took something away from the tension and interactions. The strongest scenes were the ones where Zito is alone or with his work and trying to rationalize his horrible actions.
Speaking of horrible, Maniac is not for the squeamish. It's graphic, and even someone as desensitized to movie violence as I am found myself wincing with sweaty palms during a few scenes. It's a gritty, ugly movie, and it doesn't pull any punches. Similar to the 1st person camera work, I felt like this really drove home the intensity of a few scenes, and sabotaged others where the gore drowned out any kind of tension or suspense. Sometimes I wonder if there is a team of people at IFC who revel in green lighting the most offensively brutal horror movies possible. See: The Human Centipede.
With a short running time of 89 minutes, the story quickly plays out between Frank and Anna (Nora Arnezeder) without a lot of filler or background. I personally liked the limited scope, and didn't mind letting my imagination fill in the details, but others might see it as shorthanded character development. I feel like too much background detail into the players take away from the sense of urgency the story has, which is what elevates it above the average slasher flick.
Maniac definitely isn't for everyone. It's a re-make of a cult film that arguably didn't need to happen, but I have to give credit to the cast and team for trying something different with the source material, even if it doesn't always work out. If you're looking for a quick jaunt of intense and violent film making, Maniac could be right up your alley. Love it or hate it, it will definitely stick with you for a while.
Reviewed on VOD via Amazon. Running time 89 MIN.