The only thing Paranoid really has going for it is that a couple of its stars have gone onto bigger and better things. Written and directed by John Duigan,
this 2000 direct-to-video thriller sports early performances by skeletal prime-time teen-soap fave Mischa Barton and Dark Angel's Jessica Alba in her first real starring role. Alba plays Chloe, a two-timing, pill-popping model who's invited to the remote country home of an experimental musician (Iain Glen) for a late night party. Chloe is appalled when she stumbles onto the fact that her boyfriend Ned is married, and things take an even less pleasant turn when she finds herself stranded at Stan's sprawling home with his excruciatingly eccentric family. The combination of her pills and all the booze she guzzled throughout the course of the evening leaves Chloe not entirely sure what's going on around her, but eventually she uncovers a tape of Ned and company orgy-ing it up. That's a secret Stan isn't willing to see leaked out to the world at large, and as he tries to figure out what steps to take next, he chains Chloe to a bed in his dank basement studio. Despite her restraints, Chloe manages to get word out to someone who's been relentlessly calling her, and that plea to her stalker may be the only chance she has for survival.
To its credit, Paranoid at least makes an effort to distinguish itself from your garden variety direct-to-video thriller. Instead of sticking to the tried 'n true formula of cat-and-mouse chases, narrow escapes, and some grotesquely over-the-top climax, Paranoid takes place almost entirely in a single location. There's not much opportunity for the cat-and-mouse routine because Chloe's never really given much of a chance to escape, spending the bulk of the movie handcuffed to a bed. In the process of ditching most of the genre clichés, Paranoid also dispenses with tension, suspense, excitement, and most everything else that compels people to scour the "Thriller" aisles at Blockbuster.
For a movie titled Paranoid, there's not much in the way of paranoia. The synopsis on the back of the box plays up Chloe's inability to distinguish between her drug-addled perception of reality and what's really going on around her, but that's a borderline-insignificant portion of the movie, barely encompassing more than a few minutes in total. I think the movie's meant to have an erotic bent to it as well, but it's clumsily handled unless you count the onslaught of tits from the backstage-at-the-fashion-show opening sequence (and no, Jessica Alba's aren't among them; if she's not going to take off her top when she's playing a stripper, she's not going to do it in Q-grade schlock like this).
Although it's understandable that a circle of failed artists pushing fifty would be this pretentious, an overwhelming amount of the dialogue in this very talky movie has a grating faux-intellectual quality to it, hinting that John Duigan duped himself into believing Paranoid is a much smarter movie than it really is. Still, the cast does an admirable job wading through the material the best they can. Even with all the criticism that's been lobbed at Mischa Barton for her role on The O.C., she does pretty well here as a deaf, pre-pubescent, ping-pong-obsessed tomboy.
Not having any dialogue probably helps. Jessica Alba, on the other hand, makes me wonder if the casting director actually listened to her during the screen test (if there even was one) or if he was too busy leering at her to notice her consistently flat, stilted line delivery. She's simultaneously the best and worst thing about the movie.
Paranoid isn't unendurable, but if I hadn't been saddled with the task of reviewing this DVD, I would've given up eight minutes in. Jessica Alba and Mischa Barton completists might want to fish it out of a bargain bin down the road, but the movie's not worth fifteen bucks to buy, it's not worth a $3.95 rental, and it's really not worth staying up to watch on OuterMax at 4:25 AM. Boring. Uninspired. Pass.
Video: Aside from the lightly letterboxed title sequence, Paranoid is presented full-frame. I'm guessing that's the intended aspect ratio -- the composition seems to fit that framing well enough, at least. The transfer's average, but average isn't a particularly bad thing. Sharpness, clarity, color saturation, and the like are all decent, and the source material's pretty clean, with just a handful of small specks scattered around near the end.
Audio: Like the video, the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (192Kbps) is no-frills, but it's still alright. Some of the heavy Bri-ish accents can be tough to fully discern, and a bit of dialogue early on wasn't recorded particularly well; Chloe's flat sounds cavernous. While I'm griping, part of a Ned-rant late in the movie has a kind of high-frequency squeal lurking in the background. There's just enough separation across the front channels to remind you that this is a stereo mix, and although the music varies wildly throughout (everything from a techno-lite spin on Cinemax After Dark-grade jazz to something seemingly plucked from a Busby Berkeley musical), it comes through well enough. Nothing spectacular, but it's passable. There are no alternate soundtracks, but the DVD does offer Spanish subtitles and English closed captions.
Okay, there's a hefty trailer gallery, running right at eleven and a half minutes total, but there's nothing even tangentially related to Paranoid in the mix. Just as well, really, since it's just that much less time that I have to bother spending with this DVD. Keepcase. No insert. 4x3 static menus. Eighteen chapters.
Conclusion: Yeah, I know you like Jessica Alba. You don't like her enough to suffer through Paranoid, though. No, really, you don't. Skip It.