Megalomaniac ★★★

Megalomaniac ★★★

Karim Ouelhaj’s Megalomaniac is a disconcerting look at the cyclical nature of violence within a family. Full of striking imagery, this is a purposely provocative and ugly film. One that doesn’t quite dig as deep into its characters’ psyches as needed. If the story matched the painstaking imagery, then what a film this could have been.

Felix (Benjamin Ramon) and Martha (Eline Schumacher), the two offspring of legendary serial murderer The Skinner of Mons, grapple with the grotesque legacy bequeathed to them. While Martha works a menial janitorial job, Felix continues his father’s reign of terror. But following a brutal attack at work, Martha quickly descends into madness, finding she must come to terms with the infamous blood that flows through her veins.

Despite, or maybe because of the story, Karim Ouelhaj has made the visuals of his film a continual nightmarish painting. Even if you find a distaste for the graphic violence used with Megalomaniac, you cannot doubt how evocative its imagery is. Felix is about to attack his next prey, but we have his father floating high in the air, watching below for some reason. It is artistically haunting and unrealistic, but it doesn’t have to be. We are in the minds of two wholly broken adults who have witnessed things our nightmares can only dream of. Will there be a horror as striking as this released this year? Not likely.

As Megalomanic continues, the imagery only heightens more and more, becoming this gruesomely gorgeous and grimy film. The slow camera movements deliberately either keep us from seeing something or keep us in that horror’s presence for a few seconds more than you would like. It elicits a reaction; whether that is a positive one or a negative one, it will cause discussion. As good as the imagery is, it’s the story that needs the most attention in Ouelhaj’s film.

The dynamic between Felix and Martha is such an interesting one; both are damaged in their own ways from what they have experienced with their father. Felix has become another version of his father, but there is some form of conscious effort not to have Martha involved in it. Not until she badgers him relentlessly does he finally cave and brings her fully into his world. Having such a vile character have such a slither of empathy is an incredibly bold choice. We do not want to have someone so willing to torture and murder care, even for a family member.

With Martha, she is so broken down by what she has experienced that she goes with what she is told. Although she was raped, she doesn’t reveal it to her brother and instead goes back in, only for it to happen again. She is more concerned about having a companion than what Felix and her father had. But as her interest in Felix’s world grows, the more power she wants from it. The meek woman at the beginning of Megalomaniac is long gone by the time we see her return to that factory.

So many questions are raised within the film. Is this all because of what they experienced as children? Is this all about giving Martha ownership over her life even if she is still a little naïve? Has Martha, by being pregnant and wanting to be involved in “the family business,” garnered the love she was desperately wanting from Felix. The fact I could go on asking more questions is a testament to how little we get from the script.

Storywise, you could be forgiven for feeling that it wants to ask the questions just so it could get away with what bleak violence it emits. Which for some may be satisfactory, but Ouelhaj has made such an intriguing piece of cinema that you want it to delve far deeper into the minds of its two leads. Instead, we sadly just sit and watch violence for, at times, violence’s sake.

In the end, Megalomaniac is fine. As a depiction of the mental trauma that children who have witnessed or been around continued graphic violence their entire lives, it scrapes by but is severely lacking. As a film showing us how broken the world can be and the utter brutality of it from a visual standpoint, it is exceptional. The imagery at times presented before us is unbelievable, a grimy bleak example of a world we never want to see. Megalomaniac could have taken a big step away from the usual bleak bloodbath horror’s we see and really said something, but it just couldn’t and thats such a shame for the potential that is there.

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