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A difficult but highly rewarding watch for brave viewers, “Megalomaniac” is an intensely brutal film about the dark side of humanity.

Like many horror fans, I have dipped my toe into extreme cinema’s dark and murky waters over the years. Although I have always appreciated its place as an art form and the need for filmmakers to push the boundaries, it’s a sub-genre that is somewhat polarising amongst horror fans.

Anytime it’s brought it up in discussion, you may find some recoiling and others light up with a devilish mirth. In fact, the forty minutes of silence between myself and my group of close friends after seeing A Serbian Film (2010) on a night out is now the stuff of legend.

Thus, I approached Megalomaniac with a sense of caution and a little trepidation.

Inspired by the true story of the Butcher of Mons, who dismembered five victims between 1996 and 1997 — a case that sadly remains unsolved to this day — the film’s story follows Martha and Felix, the imaginary offspring of the Butcher of Mons.

Martha, played by Eline Schumacher, is an emotionally vulnerable adult tipped over into madness after being repeatedly raped at her place of work. Benjamin Ramon plays Felix, her brother, who has continued his father’s bloody work. Both live together in a dilapidated gothic house and, on the surface, appear to be getting on with their day-to-day lives, all be it in a very isolated and strange way.

Written and directed by Karim Ouelhaj, Megalomaniac is unflinching, brutal, and uncomfortable but equally compelling.

The film opens in a particularly visceral and disturbing manner as we witness a woman chained to a table giving birth to Martha with a young Felix watching on.

The entire scene is shot as a prelude to violence to come. Shot in slow motion, the opening plays out like a nightmare as the camera floats around the room to the feral screams of the chained women.

Megalomaniac is very much in the style of David Fincher with low-key lighting and heavy use of shadows, which maintains an element of disconcerting tension and restricts the narrative of the film. All this is aided by the cinematographer François Schmitt’s use of Dolly and Boom shots.

This creates an almost unbearable level of tension, particularly as we move towards the climax of the film.

Indeed, the film’s entire mise en scene appears to be lifted directly from Fight Club (1999) or Seven (1995).

The violence within Megalomanic is brutal and, at times, animalistic. Felix is a true monster capable of extreme acts of cruelty and barbarity. Equally, Martha moves from victim to perpetrator, displaying an equally violent streak.

Eline Schumacher delivers an incredible performance, creating a character who is both terrifying and pitiful at the same time.

She commits acts of unspeakable cruelty, but we see that she is a woman who is desperately unwell and is tortured by hallucinations.

You can feel the crushing weight of her mental illness dragging her towards the inevitable explosion of violence. The scenes between Martha and her social worker are excruciatingly awkward but played out beautifully.

However, it is in the scenes between Martha and her human pet, Kitty, that we get to see the depths of power and control that Martha craves over another human.

As an exploration of the impact of a twisted patriarchy, Megalomanic is a dark tale that leaves the audience with more questions than answers.

Ouelhaj is a director of immense talent and has no problem treading the murky depths of the human condition.

Not a film for the faint of heart or the uninitiated in extreme horror, Ouelhaj has created a film that will remain with its audience for a long time afterward.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3.5
Megalomaniac is in theaters starting September 8, 2023. 

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