Over a decade later, Manic feels too familiar for its own good. An indie with an impressive cast – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Don Cheadle – it spends its time in the walls of a psychiatric institution. Handheld, Dogme 95-style camerawork indicates the film’s insistence on naturalism, but the institution itself feels filmic, like any other cinematic crazy house. That camerawork proves to be the film’s biggest liability. It’s too rough, juddering and obsessed with unnecessary close-ups.
Still, there’s a lot to like here. The story is conventional: angry young man (Gordon-Levitt) finds meaning, thanks to a preternaturally caring counsellor (Cheadle). But these actors raise their characters above archetypes through sheer acting talent; Gordon-Levitt is fantastic as raw nerve Lyle, who responds to conflict with animalistic violence.
One of the more interesting things about the film is the soundtrack, which sets two genres of the time against one another. With Slipknot and Deftones, the film shows how nu-metal touched a nerve with disenfranchised youth, an outlet for aggression and unfocused rebellion. But Manic casts it lot with a decidedly different genre, characterised by Aphex Twin’s IDM. The film posits that violence is never a solution; a simple message, but an effective one.