Man! I was not expecting this kind of a knife to the gut when I bought
my ticket for "Maniac" knowing nothing about the movie.
I like horror movies...sort of...but I don't like gory movies. It scares me and disturbs me to see that kind of thing. This movie...is full of gruesome, unwatchable scenes of torture.
But...it works. This is one of the only gore films I've ever seen where the gore is necessary. Well, why is it necessary? Most of the film is shot in first-person perspective, from the eyes of the troubled killer. He cannot reconcile his sadistic, aggressive impulses to torture and punish women with his tender impulses to love and be loved by them.
Whenever he is sexually attracted to a woman he responds with a host of symptoms that might be seen as unconscious attempts to protect him from something unbearable inside. He washes his hands until they bleed, he blacks out, he has hallucinations, he has crippling migraines...but nothing works as well as killing and scalping women...reducing them to objects. The director plays cleverly with this conceit by making him a restorer of mannequins.
So far, so good. What this film does well...and I can't remember the last horror movie that had this effect on me...is to hit dangerously close to home. I recognize myself in this killer...I recognize that masculine desire as such has the potential to turn into what is presented here...the main character barely appears on screen...he is nothing but a desperate gaze seeking an object to consume with his scary watery blue eyes. It is only once he has killed his victims and transformed them into inanimate objects - their bloody scalps (the scalping in this movie is even worse than in Inglourious Basterds) - that he is able to come to be (temporarily) as a subject and not as a pure restless gaze. The director makes us feel his relief by only giving us third-person glimpses of the titular maniac when his blood lust is (temporarily) sated. I found myself letting out a deep breath every time the camera backed away from Frank for a few short seconds after a kill. We feel, viscerally, the back-and-forth between the libido's ruthless injunctions and the stifled desire to be a human being among other humans (here, being included literally in the frame with others). Incidentally, this is why this film works in a way that "The Lady in the Lake" doesn't - the "pure" first person fails in that film because in life we do not experience ourselves "only" from the first person but rather from a back-and-forth between the first and the third person.
The many scenes of the maniac stalking the women are very creepy, for the simple reason that much of what he does - looking at women, maybe following them a little, perving on their curves - is just normal male behavior. On my way home from the movie, lost in thought, late at night, on an empty street, I nearly walked into a young woman, walking home alone, and then found myself walking behind her on the sidewalk. I hope she didn't see the same movie I did.
But why is the gore necessary? The gore is necessary because this film is a meditation on the subject/object split constitutive of subjectivity as such. The "pure subject" that is gaze can only be satisfied by encountering a "pure object", one that can only be found somewhere inside the body of a woman. Freud might say that Frank is searching for the fantasized maternal phallus...an interpretation that fits perfectly with the maniac's backstory. We need to see the gore because we need to feel the frustration that this character feels...we come to understand that he is so oppressed by his own "subjectivity", the prison of his own gaze, that he is compelled to commit horrible crimes, to cut through bone and skin, just to get some relief from his drives.
Another creepy and effective feature of this film is that at least one of his victims is an awful human being whom we want to see die. It is disturbing to realize this. "Get her, Frank!" I found myself rooting as he followed the gallerist home. It was also perspicacious of the director to present Anna to us first as a sort of angelic soul who presumably sees the maniac's inner beauty only to reveal to us later that in fact she is a shallow narcissist whose interest in Frank was always self-serving. We are as surprised as Frank when she says she has a boyfriend...why? Because she has been leading "us" on until then. The nickel drops when we meet her boyfriend in the bathroom: he is a sexy macho jerk, the kind of man women like Anna like in real life. Anna turns out to be almost a female counterpart to Frank: a woman not interested in other human beings but in objects...in the mysterious object inside herself (hence her own face projected on the mannequins)...we sense that the difference between her and Frank is a question of degree, not of kind...the true difference between them is that they occupy asymmetrical positions vis-a-vis the same hypnotic object: the maternal phallus hidden somewhere inside a woman's body.
A brave role for Elijah Wood...brave because it uses to full advantage his weird blend of adult and infantile features...his very body and face (especially the eyes) are turned into disturbing external manifestations of his inner conflicts.
8 stars for a movie that has made me feel, viscerally, some disturbing truths about sexuality and identity that previously only registered on the intellectual level.
Action / Horror / Thriller
Action / Horror / Thriller
Just when the streets seemed safe, a serial killer with a fetish for scalps is back and on the hunt. Frank is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition. As their friendship develops and Frank's obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has unleashed a long-repressed compulsion to stalk and kill.
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May 01, 2013 at 10:33 AM