Most slasher movies try to put the audience in the victims’ shoes. While the killer is usually a faceless man with a knife, the victims tend to be relatable, vulnerable human beings we can identify with – and that’s why it scares us when they die.
It’s a formula filmmakers return to over and over again, because it works. Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac remake is different. It’s a slasher that isn’t interested in the victim’s perspective; instead, it puts us inside the killer’s head.
Using clever camerawork and careful angles, the film unfolds from Frank’s POV. Literally. We watch from behind his eyes as he chooses a victim, stalks her, and eventually butchers her. Because the camera never cuts away, we’re never allowed to avert our gaze. It feels brutal and oddly intimate, which makes for an unsettling experience.
Frank himself (a creepified Elijah Wood) is shown mostly through reflections, with the occasional post-kill perspective shift.
It’s a bold move, goading the viewer to identify with a killer; it’s also a risky one, because when we can’t see Frank, he sometimes disappears. Wood’s querulous voice and raw-scrubbed hands remind us that there’s a person behind the camera, but his character never quite comes into focus.
The film offers several motives for Frank’s murderous urges – he has some non-specified mental illness, and more mummy issues than Norman Bates – but they’re not entirely convincing. They’re also not very original; Frank’s just another in a long list of movie murderers whose difficult childhoods and misdirected sexuality lead them to violence.
What Maniac offers, basically, is a slightly different angle on an old story.
The first-person perspective is a clever enough conceit to keep the film from seeming stale, and it is undeniably stylish, with its long lingering shots of a neon-drenched night-time world where sex and death lurk around every corner.
It’s just a little bit too in love with itself to ever feel truly dangerous or insightful.