Elijah Wood Is Barely In His Best And Weirdest Movie
The 2012 slash movie Maniac is Elijah Wood's best and goriest work.
Elijah Wood is a huge part of the childhood of a generation, people who grew up watching him as a child actor in light fare like Disney’s The Adventures of Huck Finn and the child-divorce comedy North, transition into more challenging movies like the family psychodrama The Ice Storm (along with fellow 1990s icon Christina Ricci) and the alien invasion teen thriller The Faculty, and finally become who he was always meant to be: Frodo Baggins. But as familiar to audiences as EIijah Wood’s delicate face is, his best, weirdest, and most disturbing movie hardly used it at all. That movie is 2012’s Maniac, a bizarre psychological slasher that is portrayed nearly entirely through the POV of a serial killer obsessed with scalping women. It is currently streaming on Tubi, and frankly, it is a whole lot to take in.
Maniac stars Elijah Wood as Frank, the timid and awkward proprietor of a mannequin repair business previously owned by his recently deceased mother. However, we rarely see Elijah Wood throughout the course of the very gory film, but the camera literally serves as Frank’s eyes. Everything the camera points at is what the killer is seeing and doing, so we as the audience only see what Elijah Wood sees (and we generally only see him if he happens to glance in a mirror). What he sees is generally pretty dark and violent, but never completely inhuman.
The conceit of seeing everything through Elijah Wood’s increasingly unhinged POV is not new; Lady in the Lake, a hardboiled noir, did it in 1947, and it has clear similarities to found-footage films like The Blair Witch and Cloverfield. However, the sheer visceral quality of what we see in Maniac is what sets it apart from the idea that we are seeing some recordings of scary stuff. Instead, we are in extremely uncomfortable closeness to Elijah Wood’s killer, sharing in his moments of insanity, murder, and sawing off the scalps of terrified women.
It turns out in the film that Elijah Wood is murdering women and taking their scalps in order to recreate his only happy childhood memory, brushing the hair of his abusive mother (America Olivo). This being a slasher movie, he is doing it by attaching the hair of the women to the eerie mannequins in his shop, so not so happy for anyone. Things get more complicated when Elijah Wood actually begins to develop romantic feelings for a woman, and as you might expect, things turn out badly.
Filming Maniac so it appears as though everything is happening through the killer’s POV was an insanely complicated task, with Elijah Wood saying that director of photography Maxime Alexandr was playing the character as much as him. On a technical level, Elijah Wood had to basically be present for every day of production and he and a camera operator would essentially have to be moving in tandem, to create the sensation that everything was happening through Frank’s perceptions. Maniac (which was directed by Franck Khalfoun) manages to make the immensely difficult look as though it were natural, a feat that cinema only does at its best.
Although Elijah Wood will always be associated first and foremost with the cultural event that was Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, Maniac is the movie that uses his natural qualities the best. There is always something on edge about Wood’s performances, which can read as uncertain courage, as in Lord of the Rings, or as being alien to the world around him, like in Sin City or Maniac. But where Sin City was an ensemble piece that never let him say a word, Maniac allows us to feel every moment of Elijah Wood’s fragmenting sense of reality and murderousness.
Not that is it fun to sit through, except in a splatter horror kind of way. Although Maniac can be seen as a slasher film, it is much more of a psychological portrait of a person whose actions can never be excused but cannot be dismissed as a simple monster or even an archetypal even like Michael Myers. Maniac will never have the kind of audience as many of Elijah Wood’s other movies, but it undoubtedly shows him at his best, even if you rarely see him.