(NOTE - As a general rule, I don't watch the special features on a DVD prior to a review, and in the interest of producing a review in a timely fashion, I decided to stick to that rule here.)
I have to be honest: when I first saw the trailer for Ryan Mitchelle and Brad Jones’ 2011 DTV film Paranoia, I was a little concerned. From a technical standpoint, the film appeared to be rather impressive for a no-budget, shot on video production, and it appeared to hold the promise of an atmosphere reminiscent of a 1980s indie thriller. However, what little of the narrative was shown in the trailer seemed rather familiar. More importantly, from what was shown, it seemed to indicated the film may have a twist ending. Given this, plotting would be crucial for such an ending to work, and while Jones is a talented screenwriter with a gift for dialogue and character, the plotting of his films has occasionally gotten the best of him.
Thankfully, most of that worrying was for not, as Paranoia is a solid film which promises even greater things from the pairing of Mitchelle and Jones. While not perfect, nor quite the existential thriller that Mitchelle or Jones likely intended, Paranoia is a strong effort that manages to make the most of its limited resources, capturing the mood and of a seemingly unending bad night and the feeling of isolation that comes with it, even if the narrative does not entirely come together as it could have.
As Paranoia begins, Mark Bishop (Jones) is in the midst of coping with a divorce when an intruder enters his home. The encounter between the two ends with the intruder’s death. Unable to contact the police, feeling more than a little paranoid about how the event could be interpreted, and believing that the intruder may be the serial killer that has been attacking local residents, Bishop decides to dispose of the body himself, beginning a night of hell that will include multiple deaths and strange events Bishop cannot explain. Is he merely suffering from paranoia, or is there something else going on?
As I noted, Paranoia is not quite a thriller, and is better described as a horrific character study that flirts with black comedy from time to time. Anchored by yet another fine performance from Jones, the film is at its strongest during the second act, as Bishop travels about town as he attempts to get a grip on his situation. Episodic in nature, these sections of the film allow Jones to flex his acting chops as Bishop gradually falls apart given his insane situation, giving the film a flavour of Martin Scorsese’s 1985 dark comedy After Hours (though the films are entirely different in terms of tone and the levels of madness their respective protagonists must deal with). A particular highlight from this section of the film is a stop over at a restaurant where Bishop has an encounter with a waitress played by Jillian Zurawski. The scene ranges from dramatic to horrific to comic, and gives Zurawski a chance to show how far she has come as an actress from her early performances in Jones prior films and videos.
The film is less successful though when it attempts to address the questions of Bishop’s mental state and the reality of his situation. As expected, the answers to these questions come in the form of a twist, and I admit that I did not guess what the twist is. However, without getting into spoilers, the reason I did not guess the ending of the film is because it really is not possible to do so with the information provided prior to the big reveal. The ending does makes sense, and I understand what Jones and Mitchelle were attempting thematically, but within the context of the overall film, the answers are too literal, and the lack of set up early in the film allows the reveal scene to fall into the trap of being exposition heavy. It doesn’t negate the joys of the film, but the revelation is not the punch in the gut one would hope for.
As an overall production, Mitchelle fully delivers in his duties as director, cinematographer, and editor. While still hampered by a non-existent budget and working with some non-professional actors, he keeps the film focused, effectively developing the tone of the film and ensuring the performances from the less experienced cast are consistent. While still clearly shot on digital video, Mitchelle does manage to achieve a number of shots that have a film like feel, and his editing is solid, though he does tend to use the fade to black option a few too many times.
The hero of the film though is Michael “Skitch” Schiciano, whose musical score captures the feeling of a low key 1980s thriller without sounding like an imitation. Appropriately minimalist and meditative, the score manages to support the film throughout and never feels out of place when used. With any luck, Schiciano will return to participate in future endeavours from Mitchelle and Jones.
For fans of Jones and crew, Paranoia is a must see, one of the stronger shot on video efforts out in the market, and with any luck the film will not be their only effort in the DTV market. The film can be purchased directly from the filmmakers as a region free DVD, though the disc is in the NTSC format, so those using PAL should take note.