Not all films should be enjoyable. Some should be unnerving, disturbing, and should force the viewer to stare directly into the most abysmal corners of the human condition. Maniac (a remake of the 1980 cult favorite of the same name) is most certainly this kind of film: a character study of one man and his murderous compulsion, told from his own perspective. And I don't mean narrated by him in some cheesy voice-over, but rather filmed from his point of view. Almost 90% of the movie has us looking at the world through the eyes of Frank (Elijah Wood) as he stalks and scalps helpless young women on the city streets.
Immediately (and I mean that literally, from the very first scene during the credits), this film is going to turn a lot of people off, and in a way, that's a very good thing. The idea to shoot the film from Frank's perspective may seem gimmicky to some, but what it does is turn the audience into the killer, and I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who will be heavily put-off by this. It's extremely difficult for most people to step into the head of a deranged person, and this movie makes it a mandatory aspect of the experience. I almost envy those who have the kind of moral fortitude that makes them incapable of feeling empathy for a truly demented character, but those people would be missing out on a captivating (in the darkest way possible) and even tragic performance by Elijah Wood as Frank. This isn't a character who enjoys killing, but is driven to it by his heavily fractured psyche. We get hallucinogenic glimpses into Frank's past that show how his relationship with his mother helped turn him into the monster he is. While these bits of backstory do help us to sympathize with Frank somewhat, they aren't making excuses or forgiving his murderous acts. They are simply presenting things as they are, and leaving it to the viewer to be either repelled or pulled in.
The cinematography has this wonderful polish about it, which also helps to differentiate it from the grungy aesthetic of the original film. It also makes the violence standout in a starker way, and the violence in this movie is brutal. With the exception of one brief moment near the end (and it's actually the only sliver of levity in the film, and it's still twisted and violent), nothing is played for laughs or "look at this special effect!" exploitation. The murders are visceral and harsh, making the film all that more insatiably difficult to endure. I've never enjoyed feeling this awful during a cinematic experience before.
If there is one weak link in the chain, it would have to be the performance by Nora Arnezder as Anna, the girl Frank is infatuated with. She's not entirely bad, but there's a stilted quality to some of her delivery, which is an unfortunate side effect from her accent. Still, she does have moments of genuine tenderness that actually give you a small bit of hope for Frank's future. But, this is the bleakest of tales and only has one real ending. And the ending (almost exactly like the original) is phantasmagoric and haunting as hell.