Horror is such an unusual genre. It is weighted on a different scale than the usual metric ratings of cinema and, for better or for worse, often lower on budget but higher in margins of profit. As such, the horror genre has always been a very fertile landscape for up-and-coming indie voices. Arthouse theatrics serve as equal parts commentary as it is dance with the macabre. Great horror films make some bold statements about the world. They take a unique approach to the genre that says something powerful, uncomfortable, and oftentimes, very important. Making bold statements about our times, and better yet, the monster in the room.
This could be seen in Ti West’s X movie and its spin on ageism, beauty, and sexuality. Or something entirely bold like Ari Aster’s Hereditary, with its twisted approach to family and the interiorization of trauma. Still, one thing should be abundantly clear: that horror stories need to say something. Which is something I think Megalomaniac fails at doing. Serving best, as a dialectic tale of a woman’s choice for normalcy buried by the immediate influence of the terrible men who surround her, and at worst, a beatification to the nature of serial killers. Traumatic histories meant as paltry justification for horrific actions committed in the name of reinforced gender roles of seeing women as subservient creatures of servitude, and worst of all, secondary slaughter-of-the-lamb sorts of victims. Which is what I dislike about Megalomaniac as a film.
Still, it is for that reason that Megalomaniac accomplishes exactly what it entails to do. Horror by depicting terrifyingly accurate intimacies regarding murder, rape, and trauma. This is a movie that does not cut away from the grit and it’s very uncomfortable moments. I stress this not just as a reviewer, but as someone with some of the most difficult cases in the actual field of social work. So, while Megalomaniac does a great job across the board in terms of visualization, composition, style, and tone. I also think it’s kind of terrible that it succeeds in doing so.
And while there are lots of arthouse elements to it in the hallucinations of the internal struggle in aggrandizing with our inner demons, especially regarding delusional self-speech and an incestuous embrace within the family… I have a lot of problems with the message of this movie. From opening to end, it’s the visualization of trauma and seeing our characters embrace this deranged thought logic that is twisted since birth by her family. In essence, it showcases the glorification of the worst in humanity.
Which I think is a real problem.
You see, Megalomaniac begins with a bloody birthing scene that would put ‘House of The Dragon’s’ birthing scene to shame. It’s bloody. It’s gory. It’s symbolic. All to showcase the children of the Mons Butcher who is an actual real-life Belgian serial killer from the 1990s that left women’s bodies on the side of the road chopped up into little pieces. I should stress, that the Mons Butcher was never caught. So why this movie was based on an actual serial killer, and that person’s fictional history and legacy – is a bit distasteful to the respective families of the victims, whom to this day still lack closure.
Though for the sake of getting to the point, the story does a fictional retelling regarding a what if scenario where this real-life killer had children. With a son, Félix (Benjamin Ramon) who choose to continue his father’s work, and more importantly, a daughter Martha (Eline Schumacher), who serves as the main character and our point of view into this dark world.
Stuck at a dead end job as a janitor at a factory while suffering from social anxiety and body image issues (she consistently fat-shames herself), Martha one day gets cornered and raped by the very bullies who make fun of her weight at the factory. All while her boss, whom was initially helpful then becomes cowardly by turning the other cheek while this happened.
This mentally breaks Martha. Struggling in being her own person, she begins embracing her family’s deathly and horrific history and even works to keep her brother’s victims sustained for their prolonged rape and torture.
The problem I have with this storyline, and sort of the point I guess the movie is making, is Martha never really has a choice here. She sees a social worker but keeps up false appearances for the sake of not getting the family caught. She chooses to work independently and keep a separate life from her brother, only to be raped and forced to return to him anyway. Because the movie does such a good job of selling us of Martha as a victim, it costs much, in that she never really has a choice in the first place – all attempts in the story, leading to roundabout ways back to her family, her brother, and the legacy of murder and rape that began with her father and was passed down to their family. This is why in my opinion this film doesn’t work, as there was never a moment of hope for Martha. No sense of choice really. Just bad things leading to her becoming a bad person.
Some of the foreboding warnings of this film, rather accurate which I think should disturb people, is this one line from the movie that stays with me…
“At some point you would have met someone like me.”
Which Martha uses to justify murdering someone in the movie. As a former mental health specialist, again, I think this line is probably true in real life. My problem is that its only layer is as a murder’s origins story, which to the unkeen eye, brushes somewhat on mental health but in arthouse cinema style techniques over actual contemplation. Even if it’s with her own doppelgänger self. In my opinion, this makes the movie no better than one of those superhero Zack Snyder movies. A visual sensation for certain but very little left to interpretation. There is no beauty in this movie. No ambiguity or let alone hope. Only death, decay, and the vile rebirth of monstrocities that will lead to more death and decay.
So because there aren’t really choices here this was not a movie for me. As it was utterly devoid of autonomous agency.
Now, the closest films I’ve seen to this are the 70s rape-revenge story I Spit on Your Grave and Maniac, which showcased murder from the point of view of the serial killer. The acting performances of Eline Schumacher is intimate in the sense that you pity this girl. Atop of the portrayal by Benjamine Ramone who plays such a haunting serial murderer.
As mentioned before, because I’m somebody who has worked in the mental health field and has had to been around real-life people with mental health issues, I will say what disturbs me is how sentimental this movie is in justifying that side of the world. This is Megalomaniac’s great appeal to horror fanatics. Strong visualization via Francois Schmitt’s gothic cinematography mixed with high close-up gore making it disturbingly intimate. You add in wide shots of a gothic taxiturmy dining rooms and slow facial emotions expressed moments before death, and you have something that makes you feel terrible as a human being.
What’s most disturbing is how they keyframe the actors on camera so that the murders don’t feel staged. In fact, it’s probably the most accurate depiction of murders by stabbing I have ever seen, embracing that continuous feeling of stabbing someone up close, blood gushing everywhere, and snuffing their life out before your very eyes.
Personally, I was appalled and disgusted by this movie. The depiction of rape as a plot device is something less shocking than it was in the 1970s so I don’t think that was a good decision here and the lengthy murder scenes are less dramaticized and more visceral, executed with a serial killer’s intent. For that, I believe Megalomaniac achieves what it intends to portray in showcasing one of the most accurate yet disturbing depictions of psychopathic murder I’ve ever seen in film in terms of its style, writing, and composition. All of which are excellent and worthy of its praise.
But personally, I absolutely loathed the writing because it takes audiences towards the borders of reality and fiction regarding the worst in humanity and then eviscerates it with a jagged edge like a butchered corpse. What’s disturbing to me is that this is not that farfetched a movie, especially given its grounded roots in history and actual acts of murder accuracy, and that’s what makes it horrifying.
It is for that reason alone I demarked it a little in terms of its score because I can’t sit well on my conscious. All that set aside, the rest of the movie? Sure, absolute masterpiece.
FINAL SCORE: 4