What I'm Watching: Maniac (2012)
Happy Thanksgiving! Here's something tasty for y'all today; three years ago today I reviewed the original slasher classic, Maniac. I thought it would be appropriate to finally give a quick look at the remake starring Elijah Wood.
Yeah, Frodo starring in a horror movie.
And y'know what? It works. It REALLY works.
This may be the single best remake I have ever seen, and it actually does different things, thus giving it a fair justification for existing.
The story is very much the same, with just a few differences, but the way in which its presented is wholly different. This movie is done in first person, through the eyes of the killer, through those large, emotion filled eyes of Elijah Wood himself.
And again, and this was surprising to me, it totally works. Doing an entire movie from the first person perspective, LITERALLY inside their head and looking out, sounds like a trainwreck, but this was SO well done, and manages to put you inside the killer in a way you never have been before.
Alexander Aja directed, and with help from the cameramen and Elijah himself being right there behind the camera for nearly the entire shoot (Save for a handful of shots) they really create a unique vision, and turn the camera into a character. All of those people needed to be on the same page to create this performance for Frank, and that is a large part of why this works. Elijah's skill at acting, a skilled cameraman, and a great director all came together as a unit here.
The brilliance of it comes when you find yourself getting into it during the more character driven moments, accepting that you are Frank, feeling his awkward shyness, just believing the role you yourself find yourself in...and then have it violently ripped away when you see your hands brutally murdering someone. It is off-putting, and done so brilliantly...in some ways this is a must see movie, and in others some people should avoid it at all costs, because it can be very uncomfortable, to downright unpleasant, and yet that's the entire reason it works...
Don't ask me which version of Maniac I enjoyed more, because they're both so similar, yet SO different, and do things differently that both films truly can exist side by side. I'd say the first one is a little more gory, but the remake has its moments. The remake is more creative in some ways, but the original set so many other things in motion.
The only thing I didn't like in the remake was how Anna figured out Frank was a killer. He mentioned other girls being killed and wanted to make sure she was safe (It's been awhile since I saw the movie, so I might not be 100% accurate on that, but it's close), and it freaked her out, because how could he know that girls were being killed?? Well, gee, I dunno. Maybe because he watches the news? Reads a paper? Talks to people? It just came off as SO false that it came dangerously close to ruining the movie for me, but fortunately the rest of the movie is so strong, that the lone stumbling block there doesn't totally ruin things.
The one other thing that didn't always work was Elijah's voiceover. It's perfectly moody, it sets the scene, and works for what it is, but it just doesn't SOUND right. And this is hard to get across until you see it for yourself. It sounds like it's been recorded elsewhere via ADR, and a lot of it probably was. The words are good, but you get that awkward distance you sometimes have when the audio isn't 'live'.
Still, I really loved this movie, and it stands on its own, and is a worthy successor to the original. Casting Elijah as someone the exact opposite type from the original Frank, and because of Wood's normal image, and innocent face, is some of the best casting ever. The brief appearances of Elijah in mirrors really helps sell things, even when the audio might be faltering.
It's a great slasher flick, with a lot of nods to the original (Watch for an homage to the infamous movie poster when Frank's in the car park!), and is a truly unique experience.
I have a slight fear that this will spawn a whole raft of copycats, like the wave of found footage movies we've had since Blair Witch, and I really think that's a mistake. This is a trick that can only work once, maybe a handful more times, but the more people try to do this same thing, the less the creators invovled will get what made this work, they'll miss the whole psychological aspect, and just put a camera atop some hands with a knife, or whatever. This is lightning in a bottle, pure and simple.