Maniac

Look of the Week: Making sense of the world through genre on Maniac

Contributed by
Sep 30, 2018

Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!

Spanning a variety of time periods and genres, new Netflix miniseries Maniac takes us on a 10-episode journey that includes a Lord of the Rings-looking fantasy, ‘40s noir and a post-WWII alien invasion conspiracy with nods to Dr. Strangelove. It's set in what looks very similar to the present day, but with a twist. No one appears to have a cell phone; instead, they use old computers and dot-matrix printers. But there are disturbing technological advancements in pharmaceuticals and advertising.

Maniac

Netflix

A retro-futuristic aesthetic is hardly a new science-fiction concept, but Maniac’s visual palette is expansive. Costume designer Jenny Eagan is given an array of scenarios in which to showcase a variety of styles. References to a number of genre-defining movies and books come thick and fast throughout, so there is a striking familiarity in these mind-bending adventures.

Without giving too much away about the plot, Maniac follows two strangers drawn to a three-day pharmaceutical trial at the Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech facility in New York City. Annie (Emma Stone) is dealing with a personal tragedy by abusing a mysterious drug called “A,” while Owen (Jonah Hill) has experienced serious mental health issues that simply get referred to as “a blip” by his wealthy family. This trial is meant to help them confront and then be free of the problems plaguing them. Of course, it isn’t as simple as that.

Fantasy is Annie’s least favorite genre, but there is a reason she spends two episodes looking like Legolas’ sibling. She is joined by her sister Emily (Julia Garner) in this experience as they quest to find the Lake of the Clouds. Across the various dreamscapes in Maniac, costumes are incredibly accurate in the genre they are depicting, which only adds to the surreal vibe. The level of detail is striking, and the belting, fur, and texture are all exquisite; this would make for one hell of a cosplay.

Maniac

Netflix

One of Annie and Owen’s shared experiences features a creepy seance in a 1940s setting in a huge house in the middle of nowhere. The mission here involves a hunt for the lost chapter of Don Quixote; it is also an opportunity to up the glam stakes with a classic femme fatale Old Hollywood look, complete with red lipstick. There is a dance number — something Emma Stone is very familiar with — followed by some action. Cary Fukunaga directed all 10 episodes and this kind of gown and tuxedo set-piece is good practice for his next project. (It was announced last week that he will be helming the next James Bond installment.)

Speaking of action, in a scenario that pits one shady organization against another as aliens threaten to invade, Annie, dressed in a red suit and fishnet tights is working under the guise of being a CIA agent. But what appears to be a skirt is actually a pair of culottes, which visually mixes the post-WWII period of time this experience is set in with a contemporary sartorial twist. Egan explained that the culottes decision was a result of the number of stunts Stone would have to perform in this sequence.

Maniac

Netflix 

This felt very reminiscent of the extraordinary long corridor sequence in Netflix's Daredevil, again giving a taste of what we can expect Fukunaga to bring to the James Bond table. Of course, Fukunaga is no stranger to action set-pieces, particularly the ambitious kind, as the exhilarating True Detective six-minute tracking shot is a testament to this style of filmmaking.

The drug trial allows Annie and Owen to experience a variety of periods and places which don’t look anything like the world they actually live in. Outside of the fantastic rainbow stripe-adorned Neberdine Pharmaceutical building, Annie sticks to a limited wardrobe of cropped baggy pants, T-shirts, a brown duster coat and boots. It looks a little ‘80s in the styling, which, coupled with the old computer technology, gives the impression that Maniac is set 30 years ago — when really it is a version of the present day (Justin Theroux’s character mentions he was born in 1977).

Maniac

Netflix 

This outfit is also very Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly) in Ant-Man and the Wasp, a look I was thinking of attempting this fall. Meanwhile, Owen wears suits to match his corporate wealthy family, but his white sneakers set him apart — he is not like them.  

When they start the trial, they are given matching utilitarian-looking grey uniforms and patented Neberdine shoes straight out of a space travel adventure. It could almost be an homage to the flight deck attire of the Nostromo crew in Alien, right down to the arm patch.

Maniac

Netflix

Annie’s white vest, which she wears underneath, is a nod to Ripley’s iconic tank top moment — but instead, the journey they are taking is into the unexplored recesses of the mind where inner demons take the place of facehuggers and Xenomorphs on the scare scale.

Maniac

Netflix 

Retro-futuristic aspects of the costume design are reserved for those in charge of the medical trial. Dr. Fujita’s (Sonoya Mizuno) geometric high-necked blouses, white plastic coat, black patent gloves and boots paired with oversized glasses merges the ‘60s and ‘80s with a big dollop of contemporary minimalism. Fujita’s glasses mirror Dr. James Mantleray’s (Justin Theroux) specs, showing the bond between these two characters who wouldn’t look out of place in a Wes Anderson movie.

The world of Maniac looks like ours but isn’t completely ours. The genres that feature in the dreamscapes are familiar because fantasy helps make sense of reality. There is no easy fix when it comes to the mind, but on Maniac connections with other people are important — right down to how we dress. 

Make Your Inbox Important

Get our newsletter and you’ll be delivered the most interesting stories, videos and interviews weekly.

Sign-up breaker
Sign out: