Megalomaniac Review

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The beginning of Karim Ouelhaj’s Megalomaniac, an aggressively pornographic story about mental illness, places us in the infernal setting of the film’s domestic environment where “The Butcher of Mons” (Olivier Picard) a monstrous figure resides. As his wife screams in pain (or perhaps pleasure, it is that kind of movie), he presides over the birth of their daughter, Martha (Eline Schumacher). She is laid on a bed that is drenched with blood – for what reason I do not know. Meanwhile, her son watches as his father circles the horror happening before him eagerly waiting for something to happen. It’s quite graphic for a birthing scene.

Actually, this opening sequence feels more like an exorcism than a home delivery; instead of pushing down a steep flight of ominous stairs with guttural screaming in the background. There are some close-ups of this mother or whatever she is called; however they have inexplicable red eyes. When Martha pops out bawling her head off, it appears like some terrible new thing has shown up.

Mostly though Megalomanic just feels like: surrealistic and purposeful and brutal, stuff that give you nightmares at night and make yourself brood all alone walking home from cinema center. If you’ve read about its Jury Prize winning run at Fantasia Film Festival 2022 – when it was called “an astonishing piece of brutal art” – you’re aware that Megalomaniac is based on true events. Not exactly. Its storyline has its basis on incidents surrounding Belgium’s serial killer who was active between 1996 and 1997 dismembering victims and leaving body parts in bags along roadsides to be found later by innocent people. The Butcher got away with it; hence we never know his name in Ouelhaj’s film, of course he never gives any surnames to the children of this murderer anyway.

In a way, Megalomaniac is a strange what-if that proposes the Butcher died after “97 but before raising his son in the family business. Martha’s brother Félix (Benjamin Ramon) grew up small and moody; she took work as cleaner at one of local factories. Mom and Dad are both dead (we don’t really understand how), but sometimes their little girl hints that she may follow suit and join the Butchers. Félix isn’t so sure.

A string of distressingly violent scenes early on (including rape for shock value) places Martha in a mindset much closer to her brother’s than either realizes at first. Here, Megalomaniac delves into ideas of identity and duality, which are clarified vividly through Schumacher’s acting skills. She is timid yet aggressive, can be gentle or brutal. Some scenes have Martha talking back to herself or otherwise arguing with an alternate version of herself while others show her watching passively as this other Martha does things she would never do nor say on her own. As she tries to find out from a well-meaning social worker named Raphaële Bruneau there’s something wrong with Martha.

His daughter might have been influenced by the infamous lifestyle of her father more than his obedient son could. Félix later presents Julie (Hélène Moor), who they keep chained up, to Martha as his latest prey. Through this act, Schumacher makes her character show new signs of motherhood albeit obscene ones; here she displays Martha embracing the new roles of caretaker and torturer and Ouelhaj frames her gaze towards Julie with the same terrible under-brow glare we saw in her completely mad father a little while ago. Moreover, when she suggests that they should keep it around (“Our family is growing!”), Martha may not fully understand that Julie will die sooner because of being close to Felix now than she used to be. As fragments continue to build upon each other within her personage so does she shatter. It might even be worse than her dad’s.

Megalomaniac is one of those intentionally provocative films where you feel like a finger is being pushed into your chest for 90-odd minutes. And just when you think that the critics calling it edgy is what killed it, then can’t get any righter about anything ever again. Also, there are moments in which it feels like echoes from New French Extremity film movement, High Tension or Martyrs in particular though Ouelhaj goes on a different tangent through a number of exploitative European flicks.

For instance, an early sequence establishes Felix’s methods – made to resemble those of the IRL Butcher – and an aesthetic mood. (Think Fincher and Von Trier via death metal.) Then he sees his next victim down an alleyway and knows he has to move in because he spots his old man naked three stories above her head. With Simon Fransquet & Gary Moonboots’ simmering post-industrial score as background noise for pictures that will haunt you forever after watching, the images are both effective and hallucinogenic. It’s should be ridiculous, but it isn’t.

At moments like this Ouelhaj is able to achieve what he intends. There’re more such striking visuals, e.g. a later sequence that resembles a more domesticated yet demonic take on The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, which helps elevate the film several rungs above other low hanging fruits that many movies of its ilk aim at their viewership at large. Still no less brutal (again, this is not an easy watch), there’s a sense of irrepressible supernatural curiosity pervading all of this ugliness which makes Megalomaniac unforgettable.


The latest troubling news from Belgium’s Karim Ouelhaj is a brutal and unabashed family horror movie that tramples boundaries and taste. This does not make for an enjoyable viewing experience – but if you’re familiar with the worse end of European exploitation cinema then his vision might well redeem the horrible subject matter behind it. And when coupled with the post-industrial soundtrack (which can definitely be called memorable), one cannot easily forget about this provocation.

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