As I have mentioned in several of my reviews here, I am an independent filmmaker. From before I even was one, I was watching ultra low or even no budget filmmakers develop their talent aspiring for the day I would become one of them. Now, as one, I truly enjoy supporting and promoting other independent filmmakers. One I have become a great fan of in recent times is Brad Jones. Some may know him as a comedic internet personality with characters like The Cinema Snob, 80’s Dan, or Kung Tai Ted, but he’s been an exploitation independent filmmaker for far longer. Being a filmmaker who has grabbed inspirations from Michael Mann works like Thief, Manhunter, Miami Vice, Heat, and Collateral, I have really enjoyed the sleazy, sordid crime stories Brad Jones has told in feature films like Midnight Heat and The Hooker With A Heart of Gold. However, in 2011 came a haunting thriller written by Brad Jones and directed by Ryan Mitchelle titled Paranoia. It’s a definite shift in tone from what Brad Jones has given his fans in the past, but in my view, it’s still just as solid and satisfying only now, with Mitchelle’s help, has the technical quality to give his work a more professional polish and sheen. The results are great!
A serial killer is terrorizing a small town. Mark Bishop (Brad Jones) has just killed an intruder (Brian Irving) that attacked him in his home. Mark’s not sure if this was the real serial killer, but on the night where his wife has finally left him, he is certain he doesn’t want the attention. Mark needs to get rid of the body and avoid the authorities, but Mark can’t shake the feeling that the real killer is still out there. As his peculiar, tiresome night unfolds, further unusual and violent circumstances impact him and the people he encounters towards unexpected ends.
As I have watched more and more of Brad’s films, I have become increasingly impressed with not only his screenwriting talents, but the strength of his acting. While most likely know him from his comedy work on his website, most of his films put him in very dramatic roles. Paranoia is probably the most straightly dramatic, yet. Mark Bishop is a very down and out man who I could feel for right from the start. His life is starting to spiral out of control, and all he wants is for one thing to go right. The film continually allows the audience to feel empathy for him as he bares his soul every so often. He’s already a rather sad guy to begin with that just falls into one bad situation after another, and one can’t help but feel sorry for Mark Bishop. Brad Jones shows a wide range of realistic emotions and inner turmoil in this role. From the fearful urgency to the contemptuous conviction to the somber and cynical to the embittered, lonely man, he gives the character a strong, sympathetic depth. He carries the film with a weight and ease.
The supporting cast is generally quite good. Brian Lewis has a very genuine, endearing charm as Officer Randy who encounters Mark Bishop early on, and later, is shown to have an affection for the waitress Claire. In that role, Jillian Zurawski gives a heartfelt and vulnerable performance. Claire is sweet, but is clearly a little on edge being all alone in this restaurant late at night with a killer on the loose. You can definitely feel for this isolated young woman who starts out trying to cheer up the tired and jaded Mark Bishop, but is subjected to more of Mark’s ill fortunes through an armed robbery gone awry. Sarah Lewis has been increasingly excellent in all of Brad Jones’ movies, and she has a solid outing here as Marissa Bishop, Mark’s wife. There’s that tired sadness and heartbreak in her performance conveying just how strained the Bishop marriage has become, and that really carries through with Mark’s emotional state after her departure. Brian Irving is fairly alright. He plays the intimidating aspects of Carl Stowers effectively, but the more humanistic scenes in the climax feel rather monotone. A little more heart and soul in the delivery of lines could’ve added a lot weight to his words. It’s not remotely a bad performance, but I feel it could’ve been pushed towards a place of more emotional depth. Considering Irving took on the role about an hour before they shot those scenes, it’s forgivable that the performance lacks some of those qualities.
I absolutely love the tone of Paranoia. It definitely feels like a late 1990s independent thriller. Considering that’s when the script was originally conceived and written that is no surprise. The first comparison that comes to mind, in terms of tone, would be David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Paranoia carries a very somber and mysterious vibe allowing every dark, isolated, and imposing element to soak deep within an audience. The high definition cinematography is handled with great competence. This looks like a very high grade feature film shot by people with the talent and tools to realize their vision. Handheld camera work is smartly and realistically done. Many big budget filmmakers like to add excessive shakiness to their handheld work, but from the independent filmmakers I’ve seen, they take a far more subtle, natural approach. That’s what we get here, but there are plenty of instances where the camera is locked down for more rock solid compositions and still moments. While no director of photography is listed in the credits, I believe director Ryan Mitchelle is to credit for all the camera work. He and gaffer Jerrid Foiles created a very solid and consistent lighting scheme for this film. Strong shadows are used throughout to great atmospheric effect. A minor thought of mine was that some of the dialogue scenes could’ve used a few master shots to get more than a single actor in frame. However, the coverage they have is quite good with different angles and focal lengths, and Mitchelle does a very fine job as the film’s editor. He keeps an even, consistent pace that allows the tone to flourish amongst the tension and suspense of the story. Some of the sound effects editing could’ve benefited from a little more volume or some reverb filters to integrate them more realistically into their environments. As an independent filmmaker myself, sound editing is probably the hardest art to craft if you don’t have professional grade tools and skills at your disposal. As the DVD commentary makes clear, Mitchelle made sure that the production audio was as top notch as possible, and the quality of it is very highly admirable and consistent. The only piece of ADR that he mentions, a scream from Claire, is exceptionally and seamlessly done.
The score for the film captures the absolute perfect mood. Michael “Skitch” Schiciano uses a very somber and mysterious mix of piano chords and synthesizers in his score. At most times, it reflects the dark, lonely, isolated feeling of the film in a man alone roaming the streets not knowing what to make of the next moment. The music is very in sync with what Mark Bishop is going through and feeling every step of the way. At times, it has an ominous, pulsating relentlessness that is very unnerving, and perfectly complements the chilling and fearful aspects of the film. You could definitely get an early John Carpenter vibe from the synthesizer part of the score, a la They Live, Prince of Darkness, or Assault on Precinct 13. Schiciano does one hell of a remarkable job, and I’m glad to know that Jones and Mitchelle continue to retain his services for their subsequent films.
Paranoia has a superb twisting and turning surrealism to it. It gradually eases you into it the same as it does Mark Bishop. It’s a slow descent into a psychologically twisted reality. To a point, you can buy into this all being in Mark’s physically and emotionally exhausted mind, but eventually, things deconstruct to where you know there’s something more at work. Both the screenplay and the film itself nicely craft these subtle elements, and allow them to discretely pile up until the flood gates break wide open. Some might call the ending a twist, but it has far more substance than most twist endings. This is essentially the whole third act of the film, and deals with the meanings and repercussions of what is truly going on. I still fully felt for Mark Bishop through to the film’s end due to the character I came to know for over ninety minutes. Again, this a testament to Brad Jones’ very realistic and emotional performance, and the quality of the script written.
Paranoia really is a style of movie that I would’ve loved to have made. It’s a very smartly written and executed film with a great atmosphere and tone that I find fascinating. Ryan Mitchelle did an excellent job with Brad Jones’ material. He is a very intelligent filmmaker who brings a high grade, respectable style to Paranoia. The films Brad Jones directs always have a gritty visual quality to them reflecting his exploitation film influences, but for this film, the sleeker style is definitely to its benefit. However, I do agree with Brad Jones that the film does play even better in black & white. The stronger noir aesthetic just seems to add to the isolated and dark atmosphere of the film, and the contrast lighting directly supports a film noir style. Brad has released an alternate “Writer’s Cut” of Paranoia for free viewing on his website which presents the film in black & white with some purposeful edits that adhere the film closer to the script he wrote. It also adds in some pop songs from the 60s and 80s which enhance the ambient, sadly emotional musical atmosphere. However, since he doesn’t own the rights or licenses to any of those songs, he cannot commercially release that cut of the film. Both versions of Paranoia are great, and have their own distinctive and excellent qualities. This is a very impressive and haunting thriller that strengthens my fandom of Brad’s filmmaking, and showcases the great talents he has surrounded himself with. I had the pleasure of meeting Brad Jones at Wizard World Chicago Comic Con 2012, and he was as interested in hearing about me as I was about him. He was the coolest, friendliest, most approachable person I’ve ever met, and it was truly a great experience hanging out with him. His light-hearted enthusiasm showed through regardless of fatigue, and I was glad to have been able to share my admiration for his work in person. I would highly recommend checking out the Writer’s Cut of Paranoia to help influence your decision whether or not to purchase the features-packed DVD from Walkaway Entertainment, as I did.