Megalomaniac is a brutal and bloody character study

Megalomaniac - Courtesy Dark Star Pictures
Megalomaniac - Courtesy Dark Star Pictures /

Let me at first be upfront. Megalomaniac is a grim and brutal examination of gendered violence. This one isn’t for the faint of heart. There’s rape, torture, and a twisted sibling relationship. Yet, despite all of the really tough to watch scenes, and there are many, there’s also a more important exploration of the effects of violence on a single character, Martha, played by Eline Schumacher. This elevates the film beyond torture porn.

Directed and written by Karim Ouelhaj, the feature follows the children of the Butcher of Mons, an actual serial killer who committed five murders between 1996-1997. Martha is the daughter, bullied and raped at the factory where she works as a janitor. Her brother, Felix (Benjamin Ramon), really fulfills the motto like father like son. Like his old man, he kills women, and to be completely clear, these scenes are particularly challenging to watch. The camera rarely, if ever, pans away. He also captures a young woman, Julie (Hélène Moor), and shackles her within their shadowy home. Martha believes they can be a family. In fact, the notion of family is a reoccurring theme, and the more abuse Martha faces, and the more she has nightmarish visions of her father, the more she clings to the very idea of family.

Megalomaniac – Courtesy Dark Star Pictures /

Yet, there’s a lot more that exists here beyond the brutality.  Extreme scenes aside, this film is really a character study about the adverse effects a blood-soaked life has on Martha, coupled with the agony she suffers at work. She’s on the cusp of a psychotic breakdown and has quite the arc over the runtime. She should find love in a sibling relationship, but Felix is controlling and possesses too many sick traits of his father. Essentially, Martha has no one, and Schumacher gives a nuanced, gripping performance. Her character is tragic, and even if she partakes in some of the awful stuff her bro does, you still feel bad for her.

While the characterization is Megalomaniac’s strong point, there are certain surreal scenes involving the Butcher of Bons that don’t quite work. Much of this film is gritty and feels anchored in reality, from the cobwebby home of the siblings to Felix’s late-night attacks against women. The Butcher namely appears as a vision, specifically a demon, especially to Martha, but these sequences toss a viewer out of the narrative, even if they’re meant to represent how the father still haunts his children and how children often can’t escape the sins of their parents. The ending also doesn’t quite stick the landing and leans too much into that blurred reality territory. While it may symbolize Martha’s shattered mind, it doesn’t feel cohesive and may befuddle viewers.

Overall, Megalomaniac definitely won’t be for everyone. It’s vicious and unrelenting more often than not. That said, there is some fascinating characterization here and a deeper investigation of trauma and violence. Schumacher’s performance transforms the feature into something much deeper than violence for the sake of violence.

Megalomaniac releases in select theaters on September 8, before arriving on digital on September 26.

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