Franck Khalfoun – Maniac
This movie features Elijah Wood as a serial killer that murders, scalps and dismembers young women. He has a mannequin shop and if you think the mannequins in the front room are creepy, wait until you get to the back room. This film was released unrated in the cut that I saw and Khalfoun certainly doesn’t skimp on the disturbing content; the gore is extreme, the sex less so, but still disturbing. The decision that gets Khalfoun on this list is the decision to shoot the entire film from the killer’s POV. For the vast majority of the film, we are seeing what Wood’s character is seeing. We hear Wood’s voice and his breathing; we see his hands in front of the camera and we occasionally catch a glimpse of him in a mirror or reflection. This is a huge part of why the film is as gripping and horrifying as it is. We’re right there, up close and personal during the killings. The opening sequence, of the killer stalking a young woman through her darkened apartment building, is brilliantly directed and climaxes in a brutal, up close and personal murder and scalping. Later in the film, in a brutal sequence in a parking lot, we’re right on top of the victim as the killer stabs her repeatedly. These moments are deeply disturbing and painful to watch. Khalfoun simply has a wonderful flair for suspense and terror; a lengthy sequence of the killer stalking a young woman in the subway is a taut, heart-pounding scene. Khalfoun chooses the moments to catch Elijah Wood in the camera perfectly; there’s a late scene in the bathroom that ends with the killer (and us) studying his reflection in the mirror. It’s kind of old hat, the “character staring pensively/angrily/tragically/etc. into the bathroom mirror” scene, but Khalfoun brings it home in a surprising, new way, emphasizing Wood’s small frame, bringing home the strange, uneasy vulnerability of this killer. There are a couple of times in the film when Khalfoun, refusing to be completely bound by his own rules, takes the camera out of the POV and lets us see the killer straight on, from outside of his eyes. The first time it happens is a stunning moment of vivid direction, a swirling camera move that carries us outside of the killer and surprises us by doing so. He’s directed a couple of thrillers before this, but hopefully his excellent direction here gets him the chance to do more high profile things. People, well, including me considered him a hack prior to this film, but he takes a huge, huge challenge here and he succeeds brilliantly.
Next time, it’s a director that made my runners up list. Waitaminute?! A director that’s in the top ten and the runners up to the top ten? Well, yeah, cause I saw two movies from this director this year. So, skim that list of the runners up and take a wild guess (after noting where we are in the alphabet to narrow things down) as to who managed to show up twice in the top fifteen.