Frank Zito is a mentally disturbed mannequin salesman who has tendencies of violence and murder spurred on by the memories of his mother who has recently died. During flashbacks throughout the movie we see that Frank’s mother was also a drug taking prostitute who brought clients back to the house. The effect it has had on Frank over the years is evident as Frank’s own sexual desires morph into a psychotic violent streak which at times he has no control of. He stalks and murders women then scalps them and takes their hair to decorate his mannequins at home in a twisted, depraved form of lust and companionship.
Frank meets photographer and artist, Anna, who he develops feelings for, but not the typical feelings that he has experienced during the majority of the film. These feelings are potentially true, real feelings, but can he lead a normal life or will it be dictated by his ferocious behavior?
The casting of psychopath Frank Zito would always be a challenge to an actor and the choice of Elijah Wood in the role was at first a strange choice. Considering Wood’s previous roles (we don’t need to mention Lord of the Rings) it is a movie which is totally different to his usual performances. Played out as a first person the camera “performs” as Frank throughout the majority of the film and Wood doesn’t get a great deal of screen time with the exception of his bruised, scratched hands and a reflection in a mirror or window. On that basis it is hard to judge a performance, but Wood copes with the scarred character of Frank in a role that will leave people feeling quite disturbed.
Nora Arnezeder plays Anna who stumbles upon Frank’s mannequins and unknowingly slowly starts to become a part of Frank’s troubled life. Nora is a French actress whose previous experience has been in French films and TV series until she got her Hollywood break appearing in Safe House.
The direction of the film is clever and the storyline simple. There are times when the violence becomes over the top. The scenes are disturbing and difficult to act in, so there is credit due to the cast for performing well in difficult roles. But the storyline loses pace during the middle third and the action becomes a bit too similar to the rest of the movie. There is a huge reference to Pyscho throughout the theme of the movie, but it is nowhere near as good.
Maniac is a remake from the 1980’s movie of the same name which was banned in several countries. In homage to the original the remake was banned from theatrical release in New Zealand. I wouldn’t say that the content is worthy of being banned (I’ve seen worse), but if the original is anything to go by this version is tame in comparison.
Elijah Wood has made a brave choice to step into a role so far from his previous performances whether or not it was too distract from his role as Frodo Baggins, I don’t know. It was a choice he made and a choice that in some respects he deserves credit for, but he won’t get the credit or accolades he can usually come to expect from this movie.