“My Face on Your Mannequins”:
If Elijah Wood had already begun to shake off the weight of Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy with his performance as the apprentice hooligan in Green Street then he absolutely jettisons it here in his role as Frank, an unbelievably creepy young man who makes his living restoring mannequins. Franck Khalfoun’s horror remake Maniac is stylish in the extreme; but be warned that it is also very, very graphic and never lets up for a moment.
Frank seems to be attempting to make an idealised woman and to this end is operating as a very prolific Los Angeles serial killer, who scalps his victims and takes the bloodied tresses home to the mannequins that he keeps in his flyblown bedroom, can of insect repellent at the ever ready.
Into his life comes a beautiful French photographer called Anna (Nora Amezedar) who loves his restoration work and wants to hire some of his mannequins for an exhibition that she is about to stage. At one point she jokingly compares Frank to Frankenstein and considering the bits and pieces that he’s playing with out of her sight, she has no idea how close to the truth she is. She also tells him, when arranging to take his beloved dummies for a while that she can be a good mother. Which is kind of an unfortunate turn of phrase as he has quite a bit of a mother obsession, the unhappy relationship that he had with her being the source of a lot of his problems. Not all of them, I hasten to add. Let’s be honest: this guy is just stark staring mad and it’s a miracle that he’s been able to hold it together as long as he can. Still, there’s no doubt that his coke-snorting tramp of a mother did a real job on him when he was a kid. In one disturbing image the camera pans down his body and as he looks in a mirror we realise that he sees himself as an emasculated mannequin.
The Frankenstein reference is pertinent for another reason, as he is—and so is Anna as it happens—interested in old horror movies. Fairly early on we see him passing a cinema that is showing the silent classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; and then later himself and Anna go to see it together. The skewed camera angles of this 1920 masterpiece reflect the twisted, warped world that Frank inhabits. In fact Maniac opens with a lopsided shot as he trails one of his victims. And there are other moments where the camera operates at a skewed angle.
On leaving the cinema Anna comments that the characters “all end up living in a mental hospital.”
“At least it had a happy ending”, replies Cheerful Frank.
“You know”, says Anna. “I may just have found the last true romantic.”
It’s possible that Anna, despite being beautiful and intelligent, isn’t the world’s most perceptive judge of character (wait until you get a load of her pig-ignorant boyfriend), as we begin to suspect when she listens enraptured to Frank spell out how he feels about his mannequins:
“Sometimes I think they have more personality than most people”.
“I think that we might have some of the same friends”, says Anna. Well, they certainly have more personality than Frank or even Anna’s boyfriend.
I had better warn you that almost the entire film is seen from Frank’s point of view, so if you are not a fan of POV then an hour and forty minutes may be difficult for you. As for me, I thought that it worked perfectly and the moments when you do see Elijah Wood, either in mirrors or in his hallucinations are skilfully done.
The screenplay is by William Lustig (who made the 1980 original), Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur (who both did the effective 2003 French horror, High Tension). It’s also worth noting that the use of music throughout works really well.
And once again: this is a very violent and graphic film, which stays uncompromising right until the strange ending.