Fantasia International Film Festival 2022 Review – Megalomaniac

Megalomaniac, 2022.

Written and Directed by Karim Ouelhaj
Starring Raphaëlle Lubansu, Benjamin Ramon, Eline Schumacher, and Wim Willaert.


The adult daughter of a notorious serial killer descends into degradation and violence.

Twentysomething Martha (Eline Schumacher) lives a life of quiet desperation in Brussels with her older brother Felix (Benjamin Ramon). They share a large, decaying house outside the city, and despite having lived together their whole lives, the siblings have an uneasy relationship. Martha is the breadwinner of the family, and she spends her days doing custodial work at a factory, where she is viciously bullied. After work, she passes her evenings at home alone eating desserts, berating herself, and watching pornography on her cell phone. Felix goes out most nights, and will sometimes disappear for days. Martha never asks questions, but she knows what he is doing. Felix is a serial killer, just like their deceased dad.

Karim Ouelhaj’s Megalomaniac is a tortured, sour piece of work that explores the lives of a dead serial killer’s grown children. The sins of the father being passed down to the kids is hardly a novel idea in horror, but Ouelhaj is more interested in what a daughter like Martha might look like in adulthood than in the violent acts she will eventually commit. This is nasty, potentially provocative stuff, but Megalomaniac doesn’t live up to its intriguing premise.

Martha’s job at the factory is rendered intolerable when her male coworkers ramp up their sexually charged bullying into constant sexual assault. They rape her repeatedly, and her ineffectual boss (Wim Willaert) disapproves but never intervenes. For some reason, Martha doesn’t rat out her coworkers to her murderous brother, but she aches for companionship and begs Felix to capture and bring home a woman so that she can have a little family of her own. Felix eventually grants Martha her wish (first cutting out the captive’s tongue). For reasons never explained, Martha is regularly visited at home by a concerned social worker (Raphaëlle Lubansu), which complicates the logistics of keeping a woman chained up in the dining room. Things come to a head when Martha discovers she is pregnant, and the movie slithers to its violent and somewhat foregone conclusion.

Where Megalomaniac works at all, it is thanks to Eline Schumacher’s beautifully calibrated performance. The serial killer genre is filled with pitiful monsters, but Schumacher brings something special to this one. Martha moves through the world like a wounded animal, her drawn face perpetually haunted by her unspeakable upbringing. When Martha taunts the woman she’s holding captive, she uses the language of the men who attack her at work and some badly executed baby talk, and the effect is profoundly unsettling. She doesn’t know how to be a person, so she tries to imitate one by parroting the abuse she has been subjected to her whole life. Schumacher brings real pathos to this ugly, broken character, so it’s a pity that Megalomaniac is so strangely incurious about Martha and the twisted motivations a person like her might have.

Ouelhaj is clearly trying to say something profound about patriarchy and violence, but he struggles to externalize Martha’s degradation in an interesting way. When they’re not sexually assaulting her, Martha’s coworkers repeatedly call her a fat pig. Her primary coping mechanism is to angrily stuff her face with cake, which is maybe one step above “smearing lipstick all over your face” on the scale of cliched expressions of female unraveling. This lack of vision is especially irritating given that it is only by the most draconian standards of acceptable female bodies in movies that Martha could be considered overweight, but we are meant to accept her fatness as being one of the many pitiful truths of her life. When Martha is pulled into committing her own acts of cruelty and mayhem, it is by the most predictable means a movie can offer a female character: the desire for a family of her own, a baby.

Megalomaniac floats awkwardly between being a baroque fairytale and a Michael Haneke-style look into the abyss. The multiple rapes Martha endures are savage and disturbing, and the totality of her alienation is almost as hard to watch as Felix’s brutal assaults, but even the film’s clunky title feels out of step with the straightforward savagery of the movie’s hard edges. The movie never explains why the siblings are living in a huge, if decrepit mansion (does custodial work really pay that well?). Felix is styled like an extra from What We Do in the Shadows, and in flashback, their deceased dad looks more like a professional wrestler than a world-destroying monster. For every effective artistic choice, there is another to undermine it.

Megalomaniac just had its world premiere at Fantasia, where it was awarded the prize for best feature. For me, the film simply lacks the clarity of vision that can elevate content this extreme to the level of an unforgettable nightmare rather than just another morbid curiosity watch. I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to see it, but you have seen this kind of thing before.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★  / Movie: ★ ★ 

Caitlin Crowley


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