Presenting a film’s troubled protagonists as the children of a real-life serial killer (The butcher from Mons, whose identity still remains a mystery) is daring. Of course, as horror fans, we appreciate boldness, and writer/director Karim Ouelhaj certainly deserves some credit. His latest film, Megalomaniac, it’s a very weighty tale of trauma that’s beautifully composed and enhanced with gore-soaked stylization.
The film follows Martha (Eline Schumacher), born in a bloody rage from a victim of the Butcher. We see her as an adult, gentle and unstable, working as a cleaner in a factory where she is bullied by her colleagues on a regular basis. Her brother, Felix (Benjamin Ramon, Delicious) is a stoic specter who takes after his father in the most violent way.
The complex and disillusioned characters of Megalomaniac bless (or curse) the film with their dark legacy. It is immediately compelling. When we first meet Felix, it’s a stark and – frankly – frightening reminder of how quickly someone can be caught unawares in the boot of a car. His efficiency is worrying.
Schumacher as Martha somehow manages to command your attention while remaining socially withdrawn. Her performance is incredible, swinging from one state of mind to another with erratic precision. It is quite impressive; she completely inhabits this character and you feel a strange balance of emotions for her.
Martha’s trauma scenes are devastating and hopeless. They are haunting, terrifying and almost unbearable. Her lonely scenes are punctuated by strange conversations, talking to herself in harsh tones. But we are still reminded that she is not so delicate. Although her mental state is fragile, she blurs the line between victim and villain.
Megalomaniac it is centered on this blurred distinction and the echo of trauma that plays out across generations. From a terrible legacy, Felix and Martha carry the torch. Pushed by the weight of patriarchy – and in the vein of New French Extremity classics ca Calvary (which also comes from Belgium) – Megalomaniac challenges his audience to bear the brutality of human nature.
It is quite hard to bear, but Megalomaniac it’s so well put together and so competently navigated that you don’t feel lost in despair. The film achieves the illusion of Manichaeism (the cosmic struggle between good and evil), showing that it’s not quite as simple as that. While despair is ever-present, there is almost a comfort in its darkness.
Made with stunning visual composition, a powerful score, and production design to die for Megalomaniac it is an impressive creation. It’s not one you’ll soon forget.
Megalomaniac is playing as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival 2022. You can check out the teaser and poster below!