Ok, Fine, I Watched It: “Maniac” and “Straw Dogs”

Despite my better efforts, there are some huge gaps in my film-watching repertoire. Gaps which, since 90% of my friends are just as film-nerdy as I, I am constantly given sh*t for. Which I super deserve. So now, to shut all of them up, I’ve decided to get to work on catching up on these gaps.

This week, I look at 2012’s “Maniac” and 1971’s “Straw Dogs” because after last week, I figured I’d go in completely the opposite direction.

MANIAC

Maniac_(2012_film)

Well, if I wanted to review the polar opposite of “Bee Movie”, I think I’ve found it. I mean, Jesus effin’ Christ. Before I even get to anything else, I need to establish the following: this film is absolutely not for the feint of heart. It’s quite good, and I liked it a lot, but it is legitimately painful to look at in parts. Let’s just say I delayed lunch for a full hour after watching this one.

The film, directed by Franck Khalfoun, was based on the 1980 film of the same name. This remake, however, was a French-American co-production, which I did not know until just now! That’s pretty cool. The plot follows Frank Zito (Elijah Wood), a mannequin-shop owner and psychopathic serial killer who falls in love with Anna D’Antoni (Nora Arnezeder), a mannequin photographer. As Frank tries to get closer to Anna, he tries to repress his murderous impulses towards other women while hallucinating about his sexually loose mother and the more I type about this film’s plot the more obvious it becomes that it was a french co-production. Really should have figured that one out on my own.

But none of that is why this film is notable, no. This film is notable because of the way the story is told. The entire movie is shot from the killer’s POV. We see what he sees. Doing this means the film sacrifices its ability to startle the audience with slasher-movie jumpscares, but it trades those in for dread and intensity, as we always know where the killer is, we just don’t know what he’s going to do. The long stretches of Frank stalking his victims are tense as hell and build suspense like a mother*cker. The cinematography here is absolutely on point, in a way I’m shocked the film hasn’t received more credit for. “A film shot in first person” is something I wish I’d see more often, and at an hour and a half this movie does not overstretch its concept. Any longer, and I think the movie would have overstayed its welcome.

The first person viewpoint also means that it does not shy away from the violence of its main character. The Frank’s actions are shown in unflinching detail, and I had to physically look away a couple of times. Let’s just say a lot of women get scalped in this movie. No, that’s not a metaphor. There are multiple points in this film where Frank raises a knife, presses it to a woman’s skull, and cuts/pulls her hair (and the skin attached) clean off. If you struggled in reading that sentence, you, ah, you ain’t gonna enjoy this movie. I didn’t think the violence was gratuitous, as showing the perspective of a psychopathic murderer was the entire purpose of the movie, but it certainly was gruesome. Also, the last act is brutal as all hell. It’s tense and fantastic and meaningful, but god damn is it bone-crunchingly flesh-tearingly B-R-U-T-A-L to sit through. I legitimately felt physically ill by the end.

I only have a couple of complaints on this one. Firstly, I felt that, even at an relatively short running time, there were definitely some spots where I felt it dragging. The unconventional plot structure helps the film in most parts, but it can lead to repetitive stretches as well. Also, I felt that, while almost everything about Frank Zito’s character was great, the whole “his mother was basically a prostitute and that’s why he’s f*cked up” thing has kind of been done to death. But other than those couple of things, I really enjoyed this movie. Maybe “enjoyed” is the wrong word. I thought this movie was very well-done and is worth watching. There, that’s better.

Four out of five stars.

STRAW DOGS

Straw_dogs_movie_poster

Well. Nothing says “this movie is nothing like ‘The Water Horse'” like “ten minute rape scene”. Yeah, we’re batting a thousand here with movies that I like but are really hard to sit through in stretches. Well, now that I’ve introduced the elephant to the room and told it to sit quietly until I address it, let’s get on with the review.

The film, directed by Sam Peckinpah, was based on the 1969 novel “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” by Gordon Williams. The movie stars Dustin Hoffman (welcome back, buddy, haven’t seen you in a little while) and Susan George as a couple moving to a remote town in Cornwall, England, where George was born and raised. They run into trouble upon encountering George’s ex-boyfriend and his cronies, creating a building tension that escalates into explosive violence by the film’s conclusion. Also, there’s some cat-murder and human-murder along the way.

I am extremely conflicted over this one. While I respect the fact that it deliberately paces itself, it did feel more than a little slow. The first hour of the movie (which is only an hour fifty-seven in total) is pretty much just subtle build up. If you’re in the mood for that, it’s probably pretty great. Unfortunately, I wasn’t especially looking for that at the time. But I can’t really fault a movie for being what it wanted to be. Once it gets going, it really gets going, kicking off a maelstrom of violence and murder that it has more than earned. Again, if you know what your getting into, you’ll probably have a fun time.

Ok, ok, elephant-in-room, let’s get your sh*t sorted out. Yes, there is an extremely long rape scene in this movie. Yes, it is complicated and tough to watch and unsettling. No, I am not going to comment on the controversy about the way this scene is portrayed because, all together now, I am nowhere near qualified enough to address this topic respectfully and in a way that I am comfortable with. I will say that I personally didn’t find the scene tasteless, and I didn’t find the way Susan George’s character reacted to it out of character or unbelievable. And now we are done talking about the rape scene in “Straw Dogs”. If you heard that noise, it was the sound of me dismounting the f*cking tightrope I just had to walk while writing this paragraph.

All-in-all, I did like this movie a good deal, I just didn’t love it. It’s possible I could have liked it better if I’d been more in the mood for it, but y’never know. But based on this viewing, I still have to give it a (perfectly respectable)

Three out of five stars.

Next week, Jesus Christ, I don’t know. Can I find a happy medium? Maybe something tonally in between “The Barry Benson and Water Horse Spectacular” and “The Rapey-Scalpey Variety Hour”? Is that possible?

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