I have to admit, I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed Maniac.
Don’t get me wrong, this film has its flaws. For such a short film, it drags a bit in the second act. Maniac is also shot largely in first person, meaning we mostly only see star Elijah Wood’s face in reflections, which causes some awkward moments with regards to camera work. It works, but there are times it works better than others.
That said, I think the choice to shoot first person was fairly daring. What we really see is the world according to Frank (Wood), a loner who lives in the basement of the family business, a company that restores antique mannequins. Frank also has some serious mommy issues, problems that lead him to kill and scalp (not necessarily in that order) women so he can put their hair on mannequins, who become love interests … or nagging reminders of mom. The brilliance of the first-person camera works come when Frank kills. As he dissociates, the camera moves out of his perspective to show what he is doing as well as indicating that the nice if odd guy we know is no longer in charge, submitting to the will of his dark half. It’s a nifty little trick that works to perfection.
As Maniac played, I kept thinking this is a little of what it would have been like had Alfred Hitchcock chosen to shoot Psycho in first person. The mommy issues, the psychosexual dysfunction, the huge swings in emotion and state of mind, all on display for the audience, but hidden from the players. It personalized Frank in a way Norman wasn’t in Hitchcock’s classic.