Directed By Karim Ouelhaj
Stars: Eline Schumacher, Benjamin Ramon, Hélène Moor
Reviewed By Giles Edwards
IN THEATERS SEPTEMBER 8
ON DIGITAL SEPTEMBER 26
Martha and Félix are the children of the Butcher of Mons, a notorious Belgian serial killer from the 1990s. Unstable and riddled with insecurities, Martha lives vicariously through social media. Her brother, crushed by the family legacy, takes over their father’s killings. Harassed and violently assaulted at work, the docile Martha falls into madness and goes through the looking glass into the strange and terrifying world inhabited by her brother.
‘…one of the most stunning visions of evil I’ve laid eyes on.’ – Giles Edwards
We learn two things about Martha’s father. One, he would have allowed her a pet—unlike her brother Felix. Two, he was a notorious serial killer who murdered at least five people during the mid-’90s near the Belgian city of Mons. “The Butcher of Mons”, as he was known, was never caught. But Megalomaniac is not about this killer. It is about his children, Martha and Felix, and their adult lives in the secret shadows of his legacy.
Felix, an angular wraith of a beast, has taken up his father’s mantel. The film opens with murder, murder, and murder. Benjamin Ramon performs him as a taciturn cypher, who might be described as a “moody brute”, except for the fact that Felix never betrays emotion, and has a genuine, if opaque, love for his sister. His commanding nature is softened (albeit only barely) by his intentions. He wishes for his sister to eat well, to stay on top of her medications, and to be safe. As if she were a pet. Indeed, he is very much his father’s son. Beyond his murderous butchery, he eventually acquiesces to Martha’s request for a pet, in a manner of speaking. But Megalomaniac is not about this killer, either. It is about Martha.
Aside from a handful of scenes with Felix lurking about with melodramatic panache as he sizes up potential victims, the film focuses on this put-upon young woman, roughly the age of twenty, who has known only domineering male relations, and whose only home has ever been the much-decayed manor house she was raised in. As performed by Eline Schumacher, Marta is, perhaps, simple. But odds are she has merely adopted a dull quietude to defend herself. While her brother is by no means “fraternal”, he at least wishes her well. Her night-shift co-workers, however, are a worse evil than the mindless killing she is familiar with from home.
Karim Ouelhaj’s film is, very forthrightly, horror. The family home is a maze of ill-lit corners and shadowed passageways. Despite being the setting for the bulk of the movie, I never quite composited the layout. Its intimidating exterior exudes creepy vibes that would have made Tim Burton, even in his heyday, think twice; and the marred and crumbling rooms, straining and peeling from the sinister weight of time, reflect the severe decay of the protagonists’ minds. Martha’s fragility (in the beginning, she is our sympathetic lens on the action) is laid out at the start. After a humiliating shift at the factory, she comes home to a whole poundcake which she chides and chats with before devouring it. This expands to conversing with herself, as two people: one frightened, one judgmental, and both terrified of the growing demonic presence emerging from “the other room” where her brother, like his father before him, does his grisly work.
But Megalomaniac is only partly a slasher horror, with its haunted-house ambience and bestial nightmares. When I viewed this film for the first time, a bit over a year ago at Fantasia, I remember it as being longer. It was not tedium that stretched the experience in my memory, no, but its particular nightmarish quality, as when you fall asleep for what turns out to be only a moment or two but have mentally careened through the darkest corners of experience in your dreams. The emotional abuse heaped on Martha, primarily by her co-workers, is what sticks cleaves to the mind, with a profoundly sharp taste. She may be no innocent—and considering her lineage, there’s probably no way she could have been—but there is a humanity within, a humanity that we witness being carved out in jagged slices. She faces a demonic orgy of misguided lust and unspeakable malice, culminating in a frenzy of dancing blades as she births another generation of sin and suffering. Megalomaniac is a dark tale, macabrely executed, and one of the most stunning visions of evil I’ve laid eyes on.
Film major & would-be writer.
Follow Giles on Twitter: @gilesforyou