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Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac

The killer we live in

Viewing something is not equal to endorsing it. Viewing it is voluntarily putting yourself into the shoes of someone that isn't you or is you, couldn't be you or could be you, would never be you or would maybe be you. The options are endless but if you always choose the someones that you don't fear, don't condemn or don't despise, chances are you'll never understand what could have caused those kinds of people to become who they are — and ignorance doesn't make them go away.

Written by


Dec 20, 2022

© Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Frank Zito is certainly good at playing someone, that much can't be denied, but he is the kind of someone we fear is out there in greater numbers than we'd feel comfortable with. Hell, one Frank Zito is one too many and yet there is something incredibly artistic about how director Franck Khalfoun and his fearless lead actor Elijah Wood bring this man to disturbing life.

Maniac is not content with just showing us this sociopath but quite literally makes us see the world through his eyes while approximating his inner thoughts, his upbringing and his motivations for the cruel acts he commits. The film doesn't want us to be able to get away when the horror starts and it announces itself quite harshly with the first act of murder that we witness. The murderer silencing the victim he has chosen for today, desperately trying to process his childhood trauma through a chosen path of killing victims standing in for the mother who is already dead and, for all we know, was his first victim starting this vicious cycle.

What hurts us perhaps almost even more than all the shocking cruelty on display — as horrifying as it is, no doubt — is the emotional self-flagellation of Frank that prevents him from forming any real bond with the opposite sex, even though he doesn't seem beyond getting women interested enough in him to want to meet. He's actually capable of using online dating to his advantage, even though he's already a murderer by that point. We don't want to feel sorry for this monster, but we still feel at least conflicted when he actually shows he's capable of finding a date online because the promise of happiness for a homicidal guy like him makes us think of all the tragedy that could have been prevented. He's not an incel blaming women for not getting any, he's a child blaming women for what his mother made him witness and for the life she chose, inadvertently but somewhat predictably causing early trauma inside of him that seems to have grown like a cancer and has now taken on a life of its own.

© Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“I came all the way across town to be with you in your time of need!”

The film is predominantly shot from Frank's perspective, which makes it all the more relevant for us to pay attention to when it's not. There are several scenes where we leave Frank's body and become onlookers, witnessing him commit these heinous acts but, for all we know, we are still him in those moments, meaning he seems to split from himself to compartmentalize his killings and the cold, emotionless demeanor that Elijah Wood embodies in those scenes is spine-chilling.

His performance seems made to describe what a tour de force is because he dives so deep into the character that there is nothing of an authentic person left. While Frank seems to actually open up to Anna in the beginning, who seems to be a like-minded soul, where the remnants of good inside of him are concerned, he is so devoid of empathy that he feels like a machine that's only playing back the empathetic phrases it once heard and recorded when he speaks to Anna in her apartment near the finale. Nothing about his attempt to comfort her is real, everything is manufactured, starting with the grief he caused her so he could come in as the knight in shining armor to be by her side. With Anna this has even more weight, as she genuinely seems to take a liking to the part of him that appears to be human and she would have likely developed more feelings for Frank, despite being in a relationship when they first meet.

The music by Rob is a perfect embodiment for all this and it may just be scored as if it's playing inside Frank's head a lot of the time and, if so, I'm wondering what does it say about me that I feel incredibly drawn to these repetitive, synthesizer sounds? With the themes that Rob creates for the film, he demonstrates that there can be empathy in electronics if the composer puts it there and it's particularly the supporting piano notes that prove this, almost as if the music knows it is complicit in these monstrous acts despite being mostly subdued in the kill scenes themselves but processing them intensively after, lamenting their occurrence and going mad over them itself, in a way.

It's a haunting score for a haunting film.

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