The movie under our microscope this evening, folks, is "Paranoia", a low-budget flick written by Brad Jones and directed by Ryan Mitchelle and released in 2011. The story centres around Mark Bishop (Poortrayed by Jones himself), an amateur writer who has gone through five years of a slowly deteriorating marriage to his loving wife Marissa (Played by Sarah Lewis), who has become tired of waiting for Mark to get published, having sacrificed five years and everything SHE wanted to do just to pick up a second job and pay the bills to support him while he isolated himself to try and finish one of his works. The story opens on the night of her departure, as the two have a stressed banter session as one side gives up and the other tries fruitlessly to wrap their head around what's going on.
Throughout the film, Mark continually suffers from nasty headaches, which he tries chasing away with either smokes, alcohol, or simply a glass of water, though to little avail. After Marissa finally leaves, Mark returns to the house and has a smoke to try and put the pieces together; in the distance, he sees a blue light coming towards his house, and returns inside, putting out his smoke as he goes in. Once inside, he discovers Marissa has left her purse behind, and calls her to let her know that he'll hold onto it for her until she can come back to retrieve it. However, after turning on the TV to find EVERY channel reporting on a serial killer who's loose on the streets, Mark hears the doorbell and goes to investigate; expecting to find that Marissa has returned for her purse, he is instead greeted by... dead silence and open air. Clearly, this was a junior high prank.
As he shuts the door and turns away, a loud knocking comes from the door, startling him: daunted, but wanting answers, Mark opens the door anew to find a man... who promptly face-plants onto his hallway rug. Confused and afraid, Mark drags the man inside, only for the man's eyes to snap open; he stands up and closes the door, then seems to give way into a dead faint, collapsing back to the floor. Mark is now disturbed; who IS this strange man? Mark checks the man's pockets, finding at first a handful of blood, which he runs to the kitchen to wash away. Returning again, he searches more carefully, finding a wallet with a drivers license IDing this stranger as "Carl Stowers" (played by Brian Irving)... as well as a pistol. Picking up he gun, Mark tries going to the phone to call the police, but finds that the line has been strangely disconnected...
Mark hits upon an idea, and at 12:30AM, goes to his neighbour John (Buford Stowers) to ask permission to use John's cell; ultimately, John tells Mark "no", and Mark is forced to return home, where he steps over the rug... and realizes Carl is no longer where he was left. Stalking through his own house to find the intruder, Mark finally finds Carl in the bathroom, slumped over in the tub. However, instead of staying dead, Carl stands up, trying to approach Mark while saying some rather philosophical things (which only serve to come off as being threatening), causing Mark to shoot him dead in the head. Mark opts to take a quick drink, then stuff Carl's body in the trunk and find a place to dump him.
Along the way, he's stopped by a cop, but while thinking he was about to be busted for Carl's movie, the cop only points out that his left tail light is out, and lets him leave with no more than a warning. A ways down the road, and with no cop in sight, Mar moves Carl's body from the trunk to the back seat, and moves on to a service station to get the light fixed. While the mechanic works on the light, Mark goes inside to the bathroom, trying to calm himself down. While there, he gets a strange talking to from a man in the stall, which does nothing more than concerning Mark further. After paying for the repairs from Carl's wallet, Mark makes his way to the highway and dumps Carl's body off a bridge, then goes back to the city. Once there, he goes to Carl's house, only to be startled when a knock comes at the door. After answering it and taking a screwdriver from Carl's apparent girlfriend, he departs back into the city and goes to a bar for another drink; eventually he makes to leave, but finds the cigarette machine is broken. Outside, he finds the mechanic, who gives him back the screwdriver, which he dropped at some point.
Mark then goes to an all-night diner that gives complimentary beverages (I.E. FREE WATER IS AWESOME! BUT NO ICE! NEVER ICE IN THIS CANUCK'S GLASS! ...I just don't like ice water...), ark strikes an accord with the waitress, Claire (Jillian Zurawski), who goes to clean the back after an enlightening talk with Mark. Just then, two burglars come in... and when one of the robbers breaks a mug, something in Mark's head snaps and he stands, withdraws the gun, and placing no stock in the assailant's threat to murder Claire, shoots him in the head, then follows the second outside in the most assassin-like manner possible (Truly a stance worthy of a supreme badass!) and shoots the second after the getaway driver tears away. Despite their best efforts to concoct a story that keeps Mark out of the limelight, Claire's boyfriend (THE COP FROM EARLIER!) shows up to check on her, only to watch her mop up the blood (which she's covered up by pouring Mott's Clamato over it to make it seem like a spilled Caesar) before eventually leaving on a murder call.
Mark leaves to go home, but stops along the way when he finds a dead teen in a gutter and lays down to have a smoke and chat with the corpse. Upon regaining his footing, Mark returns to his car, having taken the dead boy's smokes and planted the gun on him to make it seem like the KID killed Carl. Several miles down the road, Mar realizes he's run out of gas and tries to flag down someone to help, only to jump out of the way when the other driver nearly runs him down. Striking his head against the ground, he suffers an especially strong headache that brings a strange scene to his mind: In the "memory", Marissa is asking Mark if he'd meant it when he told her he loved her, or if it was just a huge mind-fuck the whole time. At this point, Mark snaps back to reality and gets to his feet once more. Grabbing Marissa's purse, he now opts to walk home, sporting a nasty head wound and a noticeable limp.
Several hours later, he arrives back home and collapses in the doorway... and straight into a fluffy bed, with no head injury, no limp, and next to a naked woman. He snaps to reality and finds he's in a crummy hotel room... and has likely killed the woman with the screwdriver, if the bloody mark on her neck is anything to go by. Uh... Hmmm... One would think that "1 + 1 = 2", but in this movie apparently :potential weapon + building paranoia = STAB-HAPPY, TRIGGER-FINGERED REMORSE". Don't see a connection, but... Meh. it's a movie. Rushing to the bathroom to pick himself up with a splash of cold water, Mark leaves, pocketing the screwdriver.
After another short walk, he finds himself in a techno nightclub, where after ordering a drink (which is quickly stolen away by a beautiful woman), the barman offers hi one of four women working the sex trade; Mark chooses a more mature-looking woman with glasses, and is tossed his room key as the woman takes him for a quick dance, then up to his room for a night of fun. Just as they're about to get steamy, a triple twist occurs: first, after the woman walks away to get changed, a man walks up to the bar, claiming to be looking for someone; second, after changing, the woman returns to get steamy with Mark, only to keep her eyes closed in erotic anticipation while, unbeknownst to her, he is raising the screwdriver to stab her to death; THIRD, he descends upon her... and wakes up on her hallway rug, the ENTIRE encounter having been no more than a headache-induced nightmare...
Mark stands, finding he still has the gun the robber from before aimed at Claire... only for the front door to swing shut behind him (What, was the damn thing on a delay timer, or something?), sending him into another paranoia-fuelled charge to the second floor. Once there, he enters the bathroom and cleans the blood from his head wound, then turns to find Carl is once more in his tub, rising to speak. As the two argue back and forth over who's right and who the killer is, Mark blames Carl for his horrible night, claiming that if Carl hadn't come at him intending to kill him, none of this madness would have happened, and that he should have called the cops as soon as Carl fell dead to the floor. As another headache threatens to tear open Mark's head, Carl steps forward, touching his fingers to Mark's head...
After a brief flash of light, Mark finds himself back in the club, bantering with the barman about cute girls and drinks; after the barman goes to get hi strongest proof, a strange man in a purple suit approaches the bar and tells Mark to leave, insisting that Mark should do what he says because "They are looking for him". The man leaves, and when Mark asks the barman who he was (and getting an obvious "What are you talking about?" answer), the barman tries to set Mark up with another girl... and after a hello and a look shared between Mark and the barman, Mark comes back from the seeming trance he'd been under, bites back the pain of his headache and opens fire on Carl, only to stop three shots later; Carl is no longer in the room.
After going to the bedroom, Mark picks up the phone and starts listening to a voice mail left by Marissa (Dude, It might JUST be me, but it sounds like she's about to apolo-Never mind, you turned off the phone. Nice job breaking it, buddy), He approaches the closet, believing Carl is within, only to whip around when he senses something behind him and fires... at nothing. He then goes back to the bathroom (wait, how the HELL did the light turn off when you CLEARLY didn't shut it off yourself? I guess Carl really hates bathroom lights), he inspects his once more bleeding wound only for the light to break. Cursing under his breath, Mark goes back down to the kitchen, where, after taking a sip from a bottle of booze, he senses two presences behind him and swings... to find nothing. As he looks around, the TV begins flashing static, and he approaches, cautious, wary, and slowly losing his mind. As he nears the TV, three hooded figures walk into the room: Carl and the two robbers. As they reach their positions, an image of a human eye appears on the TV screen and Mark spins around, only to slowly collapse to the floor from another blinding headache (Geez, this guy has more headaches than I do when I'm HUNGRY. Get this man to Mandarin or stuff a couple Hungry Man dinners down his pipe already! All of this could easily be remedied with a serving of food...)
as if reacting to his cry of "GET ME OUT OF HERE! SOMEONE, GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!", everything returns to normal; the hooded figures vanish, the TV turns off, and Mark's headache goes away (It seems to do a LOT of that... that's one SADISTIC bodily function, I'm telling you...). After rushing outside to watch Carl's "girlfriend" pace something in his mailbox and leave, Mark goes and opens the mailbox, then reaches in to find... a bloody, severed hand. Begging for whoever's doing this to let him go, he tries to go back inside, only to find all three entries locked; however, with enough force, he breaks into the storage room. Going through to the laundry room, he opens the door to find Carl and the thieves glaring daggers at him, with Carl giving a wicked smile. Mark staggers back, his headache returning, as the three men raise guns and open fire... which serves to do nothing more than make Mark falls over without a single, solitary scratch on his person. Finally at his breaking point, Mark tells Carl that "He wins", and passes out.
Mark is shorty awakened by the sound of the door bell (Though really, if his headache's that bad, the pain ALONE from such a loud noise should have been sufficient...), and he gets up, finally having had enough. He proceeds swiftly through the house and empties seven rounds into the front door before finally dropping the gun, only to watch the bullet holes vanish. He walks forward and gingerly opens the door to reveal the now dead body of Marissa (SHE LIKELY CAME BACK TO TALK THINGS OUT, YOU DUNCE! WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?!), and loses his mind from grief. After a period of mourning, a bright light shines in his face, and he slowly walks over her body and into the light...
To find himself in a church. He walks forward to the front pews and looks into the closed-eyes faces of everyone who's died over the course of the film. He tried to run, but his limp ha returned, and takes him to the floor. From the rectory, Carl appears, wearing a pastor's robes. Mark demands answers, and Carl promises him answers if he calms down. Carl soon reveals that when a person dies, their soul goes to one of two places: Eternal Bliss, the location of extreme happiness that takes the form of whatever the person takes the most joy in (wow, wonder what that place looks like if a PIMP goes there... OH GODS THE IMAGES!), and the Continuing Nightmare, where reality and fiction blend, and the laws of the universe are suspended.
THE REALITY? MARK IS IN HELL, AND HAS BEEN DEAD THE WHOLE TIME! That's right, Mark's ENTIRE NIGHT has been him replaying the last night of his life, when he lost his mind, gained his only form of control in life, and killed over a dozen people, including his ex, before getting killed himself. When he asks for proof, Carl tells him to turn and look at the people on the pew, then places a hand on Mark's shoulder to show him:
Marissa died when Mark struck her across the back of her head with a coffee mug, then wrapped her in garbage bags and dumped her in the river.
Claire died in the diner, along with the thieves (who were actually patrons, along with their getaway driver and Claire's cop boyfriend; Claire passed him up to serve the other patrons water, then ignored him again. He strode up and started strangling her, prompting one of the others to stand and see what he was doing. The "thieves" go down by gunfire, as does the cop, and Claire is finally killed by strangulation; the getaway driver gets away.
The mechanic from the service station gets stabbed in the back with his own screwdriver, as does the woman Mark meets and takes to the hotel; she die in the shower from a stab wound in the side of her neck.
The hooker he chose is stabbed repeatedly in the chest before a secret agent who was tailing Mark finds him in his room and pops him with a single round to the head, killing him instantly.
Soon, Carl reveals that Marissa wasn't the first person Mark killed... it was Carl al along. When his girlfriend did, in fact leave him, Carl hit a low point and wanted no more than to die. He broke into Mark and Marissa's house, and Mark killed him with a blow to the stomach from a baseball bat before managing to aim Carl''s gun at him and firing. The act, in itself, was self-defence, but Carl's wish was granted at the cost of Mark becoming addicted to killing people.
Despite there being no way to escape the hell he's placed himself in, Mark is determined to find a way back to take back the life he lived before his marriage fell apart and he gave in to murder. Carl is forever to be his guide through the endless nightmare, as his one desire to die caused the landslide that now results in Mark reliving that one night of his life, involving different people, but always ending with 13 deaths, for all of eternity. Strangely, Carl finds it odd that Mark doesn't believe anything he's been told... considering Carl's actually LOST COUNT of how many times this whole scenario has played out, it always ends the same way... Mark denies everything he hears and ultimately chooses to walk out the door and unknowingly repeat the entire process all over again. As soon as he leaves, his memories of the night are erased, and he winds up bumoing into a taxi cab labelled "Charon's Taxi Service" (Charon, Huh? She another woman Mark's going to end up with? Or is this an attempt by Carl to be FUNNY? GREEK MYTHOLOGY JOKES!) He gets in the cab, and tells the driver that he "just wants to go home" and that he "has to talk to his wife". The movie fades to the credits as Mark pullls his wife's returned wedding ring from his jacket pocket (The ONLY THING that stayed with him from the previous night) and slowly ponders why he has it, as a mad look enters his eyes and the cab slowly drives off into the depths of darkness...
So... What do I think of the movie?
Well, given that it's a low budget flick with minimal effects, it's understandable that some things aren't up to par with Hollywood-level films. However, that's not what Brad Jones was going for. From what I see and understand, Jones was attempting to capture the pain and suffering of a man who had everything he wanted, but had to watch it all crumble up and burn away from his hands and wanted no more than any possible way to keep what he believed was rightfully his... only to take the wrong path and end up reliving his suffering for all eternity. The movie captures a sense of foreboding, dread, and eternal mystery, as well as the misery, ire, and utter terror the main character is going through as his sanity slowly slips away and the horrible truth of his ultimate low point is revealed, only to deny it all and do it over again with no memory of ever having done it at all. For what it is, it's an enjoyable and masterful first attempt at a screenplay, and the director REALLY knew what he was doing. As an actor, Brad Jones is about on-par with A-list celebrities, even if he's only capable of a medium vocal range and a range of wide-eyed facial expressions. For all intents and purposes, this film makes absolute perfect use of all Jones' talents, takes names, kicks ass... and leaves you wondering what might be in this upcoming iteration hidden within the fade-to-credits cliffhanger. All in all, DEFINITELY worth multiple viewings.
Brad Jones' "Paranoia", I award you with a 9.9/10 rating and my official stamp of "HOLY HELL YES!" Awesomeness. If I can get a decent copy of Jones' more recent work, "The Cinema Snob Movie", I may well review that also. ^^ I also need to find a working copy of "To Boldly Flee" by aforementioned Doug Walker... the copy I have cuts out the last forty minutes of its 3.5-hour run time... ^^;
Thank you for reading. Epicon Out. ^_^