Runs Fri., July 12–Thurs., July 18 at Grand Illusion. Not rated. 90 minutes.
The 1980 Maniac is one of those periodic exploitation concepts that pay off handsomely: low budget, killer title, horrified reviews that can be used to drum up interest, and good timing (the malaise era was at its death-gasp nadir). The thing made a huge profit.
A remake can’t capture that nervy, subversive vibe—there’s no surprise left. That’s partly why the recent reboots of Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre felt misjudged; the budgets were too high, the acting too competent, the properties already too enshrined in pop culture. This Maniac remake is grungier than those efforts, so I suppose it has that going for it. But without the original barrel-scraping atmosphere, even beachcombers of bucket-of-blood horror might be tested by its single-note idea and approach.
Like the original film, this one relies heavily on shots from the killer’s point of view. So we don’t see much of Elijah Wood, the Lord of the Rings star, unless he passes in front of a mirror or has a flashback to his miserable childhood with a mother who exposed him to various unpleasant realities. He plays Frank, a keeper of mannequins. Frank’s big problem is needing wigs for his models, which he takes from women unfortunate enough to have come under his gaze. We see this habit play out in scenes that spare no anatomical detail.
Wood’s game for the challenge, although his voice is not strong or distinctive enough to carry the long sections of POV footage. The photographer who tests Frank’s murderous obsession is played by Nora Arnezeder (Safe House), who shares some of his fascination with mannequins and almost inspires him to do more than slaughter the women in his life.
There is no reason a horror picture couldn’t put these pieces together into something interesting, but director Franck Khalfoun is not sharp enough for the job. The homages and synth-pulsing music (by the French musician known as Rob) are decorative without drawing any actual blood, and the device of aligning the audience with the viewpoint of a killer just sits there. What’s left is a kind of second-hand ugliness, without even the creepy energy of a horror original. That’s a description of an especially dispiriting movie.