Director Franck Khalfoun, whose film credits include “P2,” recently spoke with “Breakthrough Entertainment” about his new horror flick “Maniac.”
In “Maniac,” which opens Friday, June 28 exclusively at the FilmBar, Elijah Wood plays the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store whose obsession with a young artist (Nora Arnezeder) escalates until it becomes clear that she has unleashed a long-repressed compulsion in him to stalk and kill.
Q: What was the spark that initially lit up your interest in this project? And were you familiar with the 1980 film on which this was based before signing on to direct it?
A: When I saw the original “Maniac,” I never forgot it. So when [producers] Alexandre Aja and Thomas Langmann approached me about a remake, I instantly remembered it. I felt so much empathy and so felt so bad for this horrific person. And that had never left me. It really left a mark on me. So when they had mentioned the movie to me, I was obviously interested in it. But I also knew that doing a remake is a really dangerous idea these days. I knew that I had to do something special or else the genre audience would really lay into me and it would be hard.
Q: Speaking of doing something special, I assume that you are referring to the fact that the film is entirely in the first-person point of view of the killer. What was your thought process behind that?
A: Primarily, the idea was to come up with a new way of telling the story and to do something little bit more daring. It is such as challenge to remake a movie – especially one that is so loved and has such a huge audience. The genre audience is picky and loves to dissect films and filmmakers so I knew that if we didn’t come up with something fresh and original, I would have a hard time selling them on this remake. When you are doing a remake, you want to try and portray the essence of the film in a new way. There are a lot of horror movies that have shots of unsuspecting victims seen from the point of view of the killer. Those are always terrifying. And it seemed like the timing was right with so many found footage movies and first-person shooter games. The audience is more conditioned and more ready to accept a movie shot in this manner and it had really never been done before so I went out on a limb to see if we could pull it off.
Q: I certainly believe that you did exactly that. But was it challenging?
A: It is challenging because it strips away all the techniques that you needed to make a suspenseful film. Making a suspenseful movie is about stretching time and coverage – feet walking, a hand touching the door, someone slowly approaching. All of that was stripped away because I was always in one point of view. The other thing is, when you can no longer be with the unsuspecting victim, it is hard to create a sense of, “Where’s the killer?” You always know where the killer is. So, it technically stripped out a lot of the cinematic tools that I needed to create suspense. Instead, the suspense had to come from elsewhere. So, yeah, it was a challenge. But it is a lot more fun to work on something challenging that it is to just cover a scene.
Q: Tell me about Elijah Wood. What was your thought process behind casting him as the killer? After all, he is not the most typical choice for such a role.
A: Alix Taylor, one of our producers, knew him and remembered that he was a genre fan. In the original, it is a very big, imposing, monstrous kind of character. But I was intrigued when Elijah’s name came up because I think that, for me, the scarier people are always the normal, unsuspecting people. I think that it terrifies people to think that perhaps their next door neighbor is a rapist, a killer, a pedophile or whatever. And Elijah has these very kind eyes. He has this image of being a nice guy. I thought that the idea of using him as a serial killer would be terrifying. And it touches you because it creates a kind of empathy that I wanted to recreate in this movie which I had for the original character. If this guy is stuck and cannot control himself or keep himself from killing, then you are going to feel bad for him.
Q: Finally, if moviegoers were to walk away from this film with one theme or message, what do you hope that would be?
A: That is always a difficult question when you ask that of a slasher or serial killer movie. The fear is that what you take away from it is to be scared of everyone around you because they all might be killers. That is initially what you might take away from this but that is a really sad thing to put out there. But I think what you can take away from this is that there is mental illness and neglect out there. If you are not careful with the people around you and if you do not love your children, it is possible that they will not have the skills necessary to go through life in a positive way and end up hurting others. Ultimately, I think that it is about being kind to one another. That may sound like a funny thing to say about a movie like “Maniac” but that is what I would like people to take away from it. Be attentive. Be caring. I hope that people are entertained by the shock value of the film and pure thrill of it but I also hope that, in the end, they leave feeling, “I’m going to love people.”