There's a certain irony to this film's being a French-American project, seeing as how the original 1980 film was pretty much run by Italian-Americans, which means that the feud between the French and Italians rages on. Well, when it comes to this film, in terms of quality, I'd say that the French are leading, but in terms of menacing murderer "protagonists", the two films are about neck-and-neck, and not on an especially impressive level, because as convincing as Joe Spinell's Frank Zito was, he was still an overweight, middle-aged bum, and as convincing as Elijah Wood's Zito is, he's still, well, Elijah Wood. Hey, I joke, but Wood was pretty hardcore in "Sin City", when he was a silent ninja cannibal with a collection of women's heads and a pet wolf, like, almost ten years. Well, Wood doesn't look like he's going to be aging any time soon, so I don't necessarily know if the age difference between Zito and the Kevin character from "Sin City" plays all that big of a factor in deciding Wood's degree of menace in this film, but, with this film, all Wood is is your run-of-the-mill 21st century schizoid man who only collects scalps, and at any rate, the other crazy role that Wood is being recognized for lately only has a pet obnoxious Aussie in a dog costume, so it's kind of hard to take him that seriously as a weirdo... or at least until you see him rip off some chick's scalp and nail it to a mannequin, or rather, until "he" sees him rip off some chick's scalp and nail it to a mannequin. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you hard evidence that this is, in fact, a French film: the weird experimental filmmaking idea of having the film almost entirely shot from the point-of-view of the main character, which would explain why in the world they chose to get Elijah Wood, of all people, in this role. That's right, folks, we finally get to see what Wood sees with those big ol' eyes, and quite frankly, I don't know why people are saying that the point-of-view style isn't especially convincing, because a broad-screen Cinemascope field of vision is about what I'd expect from Wood. So yeah, forget 3D, I've been waiting to see a film in Elijah-Vision, though it feels like I've been waiting for them to release this blasted film even longer, because they built this puppy way up for us losers who couldn't go to Cannes Film Festival last year (Hey, while that was going on in France, on this side of the world, I was sleeping, so I got more-or-less the same experience), which would be great and all if the final product wasn't kind of underwhelming, being decent and whatnot, but nevertheless with a certain something that the Frank Zito character also has: quite a few problems.
The film will occasionally break from its first-person perspective filming style, but for the most part, this is a character study so intimate that it goes so far as to pull the unique trick of being presented almost entirely through the crazed eyes of its primary focus, and such a trick generally works better than you'd expect, or is at least gotten used to after a while, yet immersion value wears down a little the more the film struggles to do the impossible and have you completely connect with another person on a subjective level, until the lack of an objective storytelling style proves to be more distancing than anything, at least when your connection with the Frank Zito character is further watered down by some underdevelopment. Now, with a character study like this, ambiguity is practically needed, but there are still certain elements to developmental depth that I wish were more fleshed out, and not just because they would have reinforced the effectiveness of this film's subjective storytelling style. At just about 89 minutes, the film doesn't have a whole lot of time to flesh things out, and I would be more willing to accept that if the film didn't take too much time to drag out, for although this particular interpretation of this subject matter is arguably more focused than the original interpretation in 1980, there is still some excessiveness to material, if not filler, to keep things aimless, or at least kind of repetitious. The film has a tendency to tread circles along its path, no matter how controlled it may be in comparison with its somewhat messy cult classic counterpart, and I can't say that I'm all that surprised, because as short as this film is already, its subject matter doesn't really offer a whole lot room for dynamicity, for this story concept is fairly minimalist, perhaps problematically so. There are quite a few things to commend in this film, and only so much to complain about, so you'd figure that the final product would be a shoe-in for a rewarding status, but alas, the compellingness of the 1980 original was most held back by, of all things, natural shortcomings, ergo this, a recycling of a dramatically limited story concept, most suffers from the same natural shortcomings, which include limitations in layered weight and scope, reduced even more by the film's being too centered around one single character. Again, there isn't a whole lot to complain about, but potential is so thinned out by simple limitations in this subject matter, and with those limitations going emphasized by subtle, but recurring issues in the telling of an improvable story, the final product falls just shy of rewarding. That being said, the film comes even closer to such a point than its original, which I would still consider pretty underappreciated in a lot of ways, and while that's not quite the point I want this film to stand at, engagement value rarely abates, as surely as artistic impressiveness truly never abates.
The film seems to have the intention of somewhat thematically combining homages to the style of '80s thrillers following subject matter of this type with a hint of modernism, and such a theme is perhaps most reflected in RaphaŽl Hamburger's score, which, I must say, is sure to be one of the best of the year, being both unique and effective in its gleefully celebrating contemporary electronica sensibilities, controlled by both old-fashioned synthesizer stylings and an almost tastefully potent attention to minimalist intensity that stylishly draws you into the heart of this film's tone, but, of course, not without the help of a certain nifty element in visual style. Believe it or not, films portrayed almost, if not decidedly entirely through the point-of-view of the main character have been done before, but they're rare enough for originality to still play a factor in the engagement value of such a stylistic choice in this film, which is firm enough without uniqueness, for although time leaves you to either be worn down by the overly subjective gimmick, or simply get used to the gimmick, a great deal of immersion value never wears down, even if convincingness is a little shaken by cinematographer Maxime Alexandre's camera lens' having sharper vision than the usual human eye, featuring coloring and lighting that aren't that stunning, but remain rugged enough in their grittiness to be both handsome and complimentary to this thriller's tone. As you can imagine, this film is very heavily driven by its style, and on a stylistic level, this effort delivers thoroughly, to where style actually does a lot to bring life to substance, which doesn't necessarily need a whole lot of style to be fairly engaging. Like I said, it's natural shortcomings that most undercut the potential reward value in this drama, but there are still plenty of endearing elements to this story, and the telling of this tale is also pretty worthy of compliment, because where the originality of the somewhat formulaic 1980 film could have been seriously watered down with this remake, director Franck Khalfoun somehow manages to augment uniqueness by celebrating the original's refreshing idea of interpreting a murderer's tale through the perspective of the murderer, while filling out many of the holes in uniqueness with refreshing elements such as the point-of-view shooting style and even more attention to the mental instability of our lead, and doing it all while keeping up enough atmospheric bite to sustain a consistent degree of intrigue that keeps dullness at bay and really gets under your skin when material really kicks in. Making a lot of risky stylistic and storytelling moves, and placing an audacious attention to brutal violence and gore, Khalfoun does as much as he can to milk the chills out of this thriller, maybe with a hint of dramatic resonance, particularly when it comes the haunting ending, and while Khalfoun's efforts get to be questionable at times, and could never drive this minimalist drama all that far, Khalfoun's inspired lead offscreen performance helps in keeping things going, as does the inspiration behind a certain other leading, mostly offscreen performance. I feel as though the Frank Zito character is an underappreciated horror icon, because Joe Spinell portrayed him so effectively in the original 1980 film, so I was most excited about seeing what an underappreciated talent like Elijah Wood would bring to the role, and while I am a little disappointed to see that Wood is not as strong as Spinell was in the role, due to limitations in both acting material and objective views at the physical acting that really made Spinell's performance so powerful, Wood still turns in a strong lead performance, characterized by a potent emotional intensity that sells the anguish, confusion and fear of a mad man driven to do sick things by a traumatic life and vile mental illness. This film's lead performance is about the only aspect that is inferior to its counterpart in the 1980 original, but Wood is still worthy of filling of Spinell's shoes, and that's good enough for Wood to stand as an endearing enough lead to join sharp style and direction in playing a big part in making the final product a thriller that isn't quite rewarding, but keeps you chilled more often than not.
Overall, both the perhaps overly subjective storytelling style and a degree of underdevelopment distance you a bit from the thriller's depths, while repetitious dragging gives you enough time to soak up the mere natural shortcomings that really solidify the final product as kind of underwhelming, yet through outstandingly unique and effective score work, immersive cinematography and a fairly intriguing story concept, brought to life by effective direction and a strong lead performance by Elijah Wood, Franck Khalfoun's "Maniac" is left standing as an adequately engaging and often thrilling thriller, in spite of setbacks.
2.75/5 - Decent