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A stressed out fashion model Chloe is invited by an acquaintance to a dinner party with some friends of his in a house far from London. She faints and when she wakes up, everybody has left the house but the owner Stan and his weird family. She decides to stay until the next morning, but during the night she finds that the group indeed abducted her to use and tape her in sexual orgy. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
My used VHS copy of "Paranoid" made an immediate bad impression. It is a bad sign when you pick up a used VHS and find that it has "not" been rewound from a point midway into the movie. There is a very good chance that the last viewer got so disgusted by that point that they just bailed out and traded the thing in without even bothering to fast forward to the ending. Bad impression #2 came when I discovered the poor audio quality and tried to activate the subtitles-the tape does not have this feature (nor does the DVD version). Subtitles are added after the final cut in post-production. They represent a modest additional expense so when they are missing from post-1996 movies it is because the producers were so unimpressed with the final product that they were already trying to cut their losses.
That said "Paranoid" is not as bad as most commentary would lead you to believe. This is a psychological thriller that borrows heavily from "Rear Window" and "The Collector". Unfortunately, the generally good cast is hampered by the limited talents of Jessica Alba, who not only looks the part of a fashion model, but exhibits the expected thespian skills of most fashion models (insert Kathy Ireland here).
Although the distributors promote the movie as if the title refers to Chloe's (Alba) mindset, it actually is a reference to main captor Stan's (Iain Glen) delusions. These pass for irony as his damage control measures transform a minor and easily concealed crime into a high stakes situation. Although we are told at one point that Stan's last name is Kowalski and wait patiently for him to scream "Stella", director John Duigan somehow resists the temptation to go there.
The just-under-the-surface depravity of the household is masked by the presence of a deaf child, nicely played by Mischa Barton. Barton gives a subtle non-verbal performance as the movie's only totally sympathetic character. Unfortunately, Duigan's script does not explore her motivations or how she has remained uncorrupted despite growing up in this environment. Instead the character is just an ethereal presence, helping to advance the story line but too distanced to really connect with the audience. Interestingly, when her parents "sign" to her they also say the words. Given the poor audio quality and inaudible dialogue it would have been useful for all the characters to "sign" their lines (after a few minutes of "Paranoid's" audio everyone can relate better to a deaf child).
Also helping to advance the story line is Kevin Whately who plays the Jimmy Stewart "Rear Window" character. He perfectly plays a voyeur who is the only one who genuinely cares for Chloe's wellbeing. He cares enough to risk exposure in order to save her. But in attempting to illustrate his binocular observations of Chloe's apartment the folks in post-production not only added the silly black circles around the binocular image but desaturated all the color from these views-duh! Duigan is such a poor storyteller and his direction so laid back that he does generate any tension or suspense. But "Paranoid" is more tiring than boring, as you have to stay focused and work hard just to decipher what is happening in each scene. There are simply too many characters here and they are too unconventional, Duigan does not come close to giving us even one fully developed character. A good director would have used behaviors to complement dialogue but Duigan is too focused on style to provide any substance.
The movie has good production design style and a fair number of nice visual moments. Like the unexpected and very sudden change in Chloe's situation when Stan slips the handcuffs on her wrist. And later when Gordon (Ewen Bremer) seemingly brings a tray of toast to the handcuffed Chloe and then casually eats it himself without even offering it to her.
Even if you can follow what is supposed to be the final twist (Chloe's photographer boyfriend is the obsessive phone caller but Duigan's slips this revelation in so poorly that few will comprehend what he is showing), you just don't care because there so little character development or foreshadowing that it has no emotional impact.
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