Slasher films are essentially Blade Runner Voight-Kampff tests, only instead of deploying imagery of overturned turtles and calfskin wallets, they probe your empathy by ramming knives up girls’ chins and into their brains, severing load-bearing tendons, and—in quieter moments—simply terrorizing women by chasing them through empty train stations. The genre is adolescent as hell, reckless and pre-empathetic, picking on girls just to see what their reactions might be. Maniac, a reimagining of the 1980 film starring Joe Spinell (who has a writing credit here), is shot in first-person from the killer’s point of view (except when it occasionally isn’t, whatever). This version, directed by Franck Khalfoun, casts Elijah Wood as Frank, a survivor of various forms of child neglect and trauma that have warped him into a serial killer. Frank hunts women who fit a specific profile—party girls who remind him of his mother. Khalfoun makes the audience privy to Frank’s memories, migraines, and jarring hallucinations of his mother’s recalled abuses. When he meets Anna (Nora Arnezeder), Frank thinks he’s finally found the one human female who can soothe his woman-hatey anxieties. He owns a downtown L.A. warehouse where he restores vintage mannequins, and Anna has mistaken his social cluelessness for a fringe-dwelling, bohemian lifestyle. Seeing Anna through Frank’s eyes, do you fall in love with her? Do you empathize with his dismay when she falls short of his hopes? Who are you rooting for during the up-close business of screaming women getting scalped? Now describe, in single words only, the good thoughts that come into your mind about your mother.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 19, 2013