In Maniac, Elijah Wood stars as Frank, a deeply disturbed mannequin store owner and part-time serial killer with a history of childhood abuse. Frank gets his therapy on the cheap, finding relief in the act of scalping his victims, and with the film shot almost entirely in POV perspective we’re there for every strangled scream, broken bone, and drop of blood. Directed by Franck Khalfoun and based on the 1980 slasher, Maniac stands on its own as a solid horror film that’s bolstered by gruesome effects, great performances, and an amazing soundtrack. Maniac also stars Nora Arnezeder, Megan Duffy, Liane Balaban, America Olivo, and Jan Broberg.
Earlier this week I spoke with Wood. We talked about the distinct challenges of working in POV format, creating a character in voice over, and working with Alexandre Aja and Franck Khalfoun. Wood also discussed the implications of the rapidly occurring changes in the film industry and plans for his new horror-centric production company, Spectre Vision. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
ELIJAH WOOD: It was kind of like playing a character made up of different elements. It was a character in three parts almost. There was the POV, where I was off camera and behind the camera. There were these very specific reflections that are major character moments or moments where we check in with the character for a short amount of time and get a lot, hopefully. And there’s also the voice, because since most of the film is in POV, you largely feel him and hear him. So for me there were a few challenges, I think making sure that you got enough of the sense of the character from those reflections. I suppose to a certain point there was more pressure that those evoke the character than there would normally if you were on camera the whole time because there are so few shots of him. And then I think the challenge of making the character come to life vocally with as much nuance as possible. I think also not settling into or relying on any clichés when it comes to the more murderous or villainous aspects of the character. To make those things feel real was always very important to me and I kind of saw that as a challenge.
Also to make him believably vulnerable too, I think that when it comes to playing a character like this that believable is a challenge, and I also knew that I don’t necessarily look like what one would consider a killer and there are all those kinds of perceptions that you’re up against to a certain degree. But all in all it was also lot of fun the process of shooting something from a POV perspective was really exciting. Being on set and being behind the camera, I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a DP so closely before because he effectively is me, and I really enjoyed that. It was a real discovery process, because I think going into it they had written these moments into the film where the character sees himself, where we see the character, and there are these scenes, but then going to shoot them not having the ability to shoot coverage or rely on editing. Those limitations create real challenges. So everyday each scene was kind of a puzzle that we had to figure out how we were going to execute it and it often had really interesting exciting results as well.
Did the idea of creating your character in so many parts and relying so heavily on the DP to be a part of that ever kind of restructure your idea of what’s considered a performance?
WOOD: I don’t know that it changed my perception to what a performance can be, because the realization of a character at the very base of all that is the same. It’s a character from point A to point B throughout the course of a film, your understanding of who that character is, of what that arc is, is the same except in this it’s playing it in different parts and having to put all those things together. But I knew that the glue for that – that’s why I referred to the voice over being so important, because that’s the glue that kind of cements everything together. I always knew that the real character work, in a way, would be done there and not so much on the set, because that would make everything come together. That when you’re not seeing the character you’re feeling him, it adds accordance to when you’re seeing him as well. That was the foundation and the glue in a way.
I know that you’re a fan of the genre, but I can’t imagine this is the only horror script that has come your way, what was the reason that you wanted to be a part of this project?
WOOD: I don’t actually often get horror scripts. It’s different now because I have a horror film production company, but prior to that not much. This film, I guess what was exciting about it was that it was shot in the POV. The proposal was, “we would like you to play a villain in a movie that is primarily POV and we’ll only ever see you in reflections,” and that just sounded so exciting, and it sounded so exciting from an audiences perspective as well. That you sit through a film and you’d be experiencing what this killer is experiencing, I found that idea to be really disturbing and interesting. It’s a remake and I’m not a huge fan of remakes, but the fact that it was so completely different than the original, that it really strongly differentiated itself and had its own voice that was exciting. And Alex Aja was involved, I’m a fan of his work and trust him and think he’s a great artist in the genre.
How much was he involved in production on a daily basis?
WOOD: He was on set every day.
WOOD: Yeah, he was on set every day. He and Franck kind of grew up together, they’ve known each other for years. Franck was actually in High Tension, I think he gets murdered in High Tension. I didn’t even realize this until a few days ago. I have to go back and re-watch the movie. They’ve known each other for years and worked together for years, so that collaboration…because Franck also directed P2, which Alex produced so that combination was something that was familiar to them and had yielded interesting results.
Since I have such limited time with you I kind of want to touch on a couple other topics. You have been working in the industry for a long time now, and the film industry is obviously always evolving, but it’s evolving very rapidly at the moment. What are some of the changes you’ve seen in the last few years that have you excited or worried as an actor/producer/film lover?
WOOD: Well it’s interesting because – you know Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recently spoke at USC about how they think the film industry will implode, and I think that they’re right in terms of talking about the major studio system; Soderbergh has said very similar things. So I definitely see that trajectory, but I also feel over the last three to five years we’re also kind of seeing the Wild West again in the film industry. I sort of feel like with the continuing growth of VOD as a real distribution model we’re getting movies to different parts of the country or the world that wouldn’t have seen those films, certainly not in cinemas; foreign films, horror films, indie films. That’s really exciting. In some ways I feel like we’re a more global community, the film industry, than we’ve ever been. I feel like there are certain kinds of cinema that are bleeding into areas that they would never have before. And I think in terms of getting movies made, it’s still really difficult getting movies financed and one has to be really creative, but there are also all these tiny little micro-budget movies being made, people making movies for nothing, and doing really exciting things. Like with Monsters, for instance, which was made for I think like $7000 because he did primarily all the special effects himself. That was so exciting and I feel like there’s more and more of that happening. So as much as there’s this kind of impending doom of the system imploding I also feel this general excitement that there’s a lot of possibility now to get your voice heard and to do really interesting and exciting things.
It’s interesting it seems to be paralleling the music industry, because in the music industry similar things are happening. You’ve got major artists releasing albums on their own and eschewing the major system. I think that breeds excitement and creativity. So I don’t know, I definitely see the kind of doom, but I also see more opportunity. Because all of the studios had these independent divisions that died shortly after like 2002, 2003 and they all went away. And they were great places for exciting movies to be made within the studio system, but then they were gone and it was such a bummer. Now all these little genre and interesting film divisions are coming up again in the context of Lionsgate and Paramount and people are trying to do interesting, exiting things again. I don’t know, I’m optimistic. I kind of think it’s a cool time.
You mentioned your new production company, Spectre Vision, what are you hoping to bring to horror that we might be missing right now?
WOOD: I think one of our guiding principles is in part to try and push the boundaries of what one considers a horror film. I think that’s an exciting idea. We have a film that comes out in October that we acquired last year called Toad Road, which is a documentary that weaves in a kind of horror narrative into the end of the film, and that would normally not be considered a horror movie, but we think it really kind of is in so many aspects. I find that really exiting. I think the kind of movies that we love and the movies where, I mean I love all kinds of horror films, but I particularly love horror films where you can almost take the horror elements out and you still have a compelling story. Something like – Let the Right One In is one that I use often, where if you take the vampirism out it’s about an isolated young boy and an isolated young girl who become friends and it’s still very interesting. We’re inspired by those kinds of stories. In Europe, Mexico, South America, and Asia I think is where some of the best genre films and genre cinema has been in the last ten years. We’re inspired by those movies and those are the kinds of things we’d like to do here. But there’s a lot of exciting things happening in the genre. You’ve got You’re Next coming out, which is supposed to be brilliant. The Conjuring is coming out, which looks amazing, Insidious 2; there are some really exciting things happening in the genre here too. The ABC’s of Death is a lot of fun. V/H/S and V/H/S/2 are very exciting. So I feel like the horizon is really positive for the genre.