Maniac (2012)…Reflections on a Remake

Hmmm Elijah Wood as a murdering, mommy obsessed, lady scalping maniac…I’ll admit it, I had my doubts (many, many doubts).With his delicate, almost elven features and his un-intimidating stature, he didn’t seem exactly an ideal choice to fill the original maniac’s (Joe Spinell) big clunky shoes…come on, you know what I mean. He’s, you know, short and adorable, like a baby chipmunk. He still looks like a young boy (not a bad thing) and he’s just so damn cute and sweet looking you kinda want to knit him a hat and put him down for a nap.

Shut up, I’m totally not the only one who thinks this!

I was doubtful going into it and, I’m really ashamed to say, that I bitched non-stop to my hubby about how the original would no doubt be superior, and that at least Joe Spinell looked like he could actually kill someone and Elijah Wood was too delicate and girly for the role…yes I know, I can occasionally be a huge bitch.

BUT…I was wrong. I was pretty much the wrongest I’ve ever been (well..regarding movies anyway)

So, allow me to eat a plate of crow…

Maniac, directed by Franck Khalfoun (P2), and starring a very manly and unnerving Elijah Wood, is an absolutely brilliant piece of horror cinema. Shot with incredible restraint and existing in a sparsely populated and exquisitely minimalist universe, Maniac tells the tale of a deeply disturbed, maniacally homicidal young man named Frank (Wood).

Filmed entirely from Frank’s point of view, Maniac sinks us into the mind of a madman and once inside we see the world through the distorted, murky veil of insanity. The camera moves in slow, deliberate movements, a shy glance at a woman’s curves, the panicked scanning of the surroundings; we see what Frank sees. We have no choice but to focus intently on his obsessions, be it a victim’s terrified face or a woman’s delicate finger slowly moving down the bridge of a mannequin’s nose. Every scene is through Frank’s eyes, so there is no distance between us; the viewer and the murderer are one and the same.

Although the visual style of Maniac is very different from what we see in your average horror movie, the movie is also unique for what we don’t see, specifically the main character. Elijah Wood has very little screen time, and when we do see him, it is usually while killing, in reflection or through the lens of a webcam. In those fleeting moments when he stares at his reflection and his reflection stares back at us, you may very well find yourself thinking “poor baby”.

There was such depth of sorrow and pain in those beautiful eyes, that I found myself feeling such incredible heartbreak for a character who I had just watched, not 10 minutes before,scalp and murder a woman. I suppose it speaks volumes about Elijah Wood’s depth and maturity as an actor that he can simultaneously evoke feelings of deep sympathy and horror.

Now much like the original, the plot also involves Frank “falling” for a lovely French photographer named Anna (lovely French actress Nora Arnezeder) and his hope that she would be the one who would be different than the others. That’s all well and good and the supporting cast, although small, is flawless; but as far as I’m concerned, they could have populated the cast with Frank’s weird mannequins instead of actors and it would have been just as good. The whole movie rests on Elijah Wood’s performance, from the timbre of his voice to the pain and madness that haunts his face in the brief moments we get to see him; he is nothing short of captivating.

Who the fuck knew Elijah Wood had it in him? Most certainly not me.

I re-watched the original, for a sense of perspective more than anything, and although the 1980 slasher is still awesome, the remake is (shockingly) superior. Perhaps because Spinell lacked the gravitas and vulnerability that Wood brought to the role, or more likely because Joe Spinell really looked like a creepy, nasty, icky, sweaty crazy man (no offense to the dearly departed…ahem). But really, he seemed like the type of man who had 3 or 4 corpses in his mattress, and he approached the role that way. He may have written the script, but there was very little room for subtlety in his interpretation. The movie is still awesome in it’s way but, and I never thought I’d say this, it merited remaking.

I guess I learned a valuable lesson here (cue heartwarming muzak) not to judge a short man by his size…or maybe not to assume that all remakes suck. Hmm, I’m trying to think of something else, but it’s late, and all I can think is “I want a cookie”.

So let’s all get a cookie and give Maniac a watch…oh, and be prepared to love you some Elijah, cause in this fucked up, twisted and bloody world, Elijah Wood is kinda the man.

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