NZIFF 2013 Diary: MANIAC

For the 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival I figured I’d try and keep some kind of a review diary covering each of the 20 or so films I’m planning to see. It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks.

maniac__spanIt speaks pretty highly of the lineup for the 2013 NZIFF that there’s only one film I saw that I would like to extricate from my memory. That film is Maniac.

A remake of a semi-classic 1980 slasher movie, Maniac is the story of Frank (Elijah Wood), a deeply disturbed vintage mannequin restorer (a profession that could only exist in a horror film) with a penchant for viciously murdering young women to collect their scalps. Following an encounter with young artist Anna (Nora Amezeder) who wants to use some of Frank’s mannequins for an art show, we’re led down a dark alley of obsession.

The hook for Maniac (and certainly the reason for it’s much discussed ban in NZ outside of festival screenings) is the unconventional style, in that the whole film is filmed from Frank’s point of view. In a better film, the ban might open up an interesting debate regarding POV violence in entertainment, given the popularity of first-person shooter video games etc, but it seems Maniac doesn’t have much to say beneath its ugly surface.

Aside from a startling and effective opening sequence, the film is peppered with some very upsetting scenes of violence towards women, feeling like relics from a more barbaric era of cinema. Director Franck Khalfoun clearly thinks he’s making Peeping Tom for the 21st century, but despite the intriguing technique, he doesn’t generate any tension with Maniac, instead presenting the extreme violence seemingly for the sake of it. In between we have to suffer some of the most atrocious, ham-fisted dialogue imaginable, and any attempts to get deeper into Frank’s psychology land with an obvious thud. The rare occasions where Khalfoun’s choices seem to be leading somewhere a little more interesting, as he shifts perspective outside of Frank, are swiftly jettisoned in favour of more nastiness.

Perhaps the only thing in Maniac’s favour is the moody 80s style music by Robin Coudert, but even that makes up for little when it accompanies such a vapid film. In better hands a film like Maniac might have had some interesting things to say, but this is a film to be avoided.