Remaking any film, particularly in the horror genre, is a brave project to attempt and a difficult one to get right. On the one hand you have potentially legions of fans of the original production who must be appeased and on the other you have the need to appeal to a new market, for the most part consisting of an audience that has not seen the source material. Most fail but with Franck Khalfoun's Maniac, we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief.
As a young woman leaves a nightclub in a bleak Los Angeles suburb and begins to head home she quickly realises she is being stalked by a sinister presence. Somewhat panicked she seeks comfort in a taxi and, feeling safer, arrives back at her apartment building. As she reaches her floor the lights fail but thinking little of it she reaches her door and rummages in her bag for keys. It's then that she realises that presence has returned and turning slowly to face it she is killed and scalped by her attacker.
Frank (Elijah Wood) is a withdrawn, introverted owner of a mannequin shop who hunts women as night falls. Trawling dating sites for his next victim he comes across Lucie (Megan Duffy), a vivacious, outgoing woman who agrees to meet him at a restaurant. During the meal Frank appears to suffer a severe migraine or anxiety attack which then affects his subsequent personality. After accepting an invitation to Lucie's flat Frank struggles to hide his discomfort as his companion undresses and attempts to seduce him, still unaware of the danger she is in. As she gets him to bed, Frank attacks and strangles her before removing his knife and scalping his victim.
Returning to his home at the rear of the mannequin shop the full extent of the horror is revealed as Frank places the fresh and bloody scalp on the head of a mannequin dressed and made up like his victim. As his obsession escalates he meets a young photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder) who appeals to Frank's idealistic and nurturing side but for how long will his murderous instinct remain repressed.
The first thing to say is that Maniac is a darkly intense watch. Director Frank Khalfoun has created an almost stifling atmosphere in the film forcing the viewer to hold their breath as the camera follows Frank's hunts through his own eyes. This difficult, limited viewpoint is expertly handled as Khalfoun paints a disturbing picture of the thoughts and motivations usually hidden behind the unsympathetic eyes of a serial killer. With very few scenes in daylight and with an unrelenting soundtrack Maniac is a triumph of suspense horror that does not need to rely at all on the all too common tricks of the genre that many directors use to scare the audience.
With every scene, apart from some dreamlike sequences used to create a back story, seen from Frank's point of view it is important that the cast perform and in Maniac they do. The fear, loathing and horror is palpable as each victim looks straight into the camera, and ultimately into the audiences eyes. This voyeuristic feel to the film puts the viewer in Frank's head and you almost feel that it's your hands holding the knife or gripping the victim's neck, and the occasional use of mirrors further emphasizes this uncomfortable empathy. Elijah Wood is outstanding as the haunted, sadistic Frank and every one of the supporting cast delivers strong performances, drawn out by the strong and unflinching direction.
It was also refreshing that Maniac didn't buckle when it came to the third act. The tension is built at increasing pace towards a climax that is as brutal as it is unforgiving, and delivers on the promise generated throughout the film.
Maniac is a success when judged as a stand alone film, but also when compared with its source. This newer version adds more depth to the character and even leans a little towards sympathy for Frank but never backs down from the visceral and unpleasant nature of the crimes and perversions. The original has attained a cult, almost legendary reputation; I would go as far to say that Frank Khalfoun's Maniac is a better film and deserves even greater reverence.