Here's an effective little paranoid thriller with one of the worst titles I've ever seen committed to film. I must admit that Jeff Renfroe and Marteinn Thorsson's Paranoia: 1.0 (originally titled, no better or worse, One Point O) caught me by pleasant surprise, offering up an out-of-nowhere, moody little psychodrama with an intellectually adventurous style and Kafkaesque vibe. Paranoid: 1.0 isn't a perfect film, and in fact it bites off a little more than it can chew, but this is a film worth watching, and perhaps even rewatching, for the sheer weirdness of it all.
The film is an anticonsumerism-sci-fi-pseudo-1984-mind-bender, twisting and turning through the strange realities of its off-kilter characters. Simon (Jeremy Sisto) is a paranoid IT dude living in about the same universe in which Dark City takes place. He lives in an oppressive apartment building that's a nightmare in itself. One day, he finds that someone has left a brown twine-wrapped box in his apartment, but when he opens it, it appears to be empty. Soon, another box appears. And another. And poor Simon starts going a little nuts, and his paranoia gradually grows about his universally strange neighbors. But more is happening than meets the eye, and those boxes really are filled with something—something that will change Simon's world and mindscape.
Things just keep getting stranger and murkier in Paranoia: 1.0, and I don't want to fall into the trap of merely enumerating plot events. This is a film best left to cerebral experience. I could mention Simon's increasing predilection for milk, or I could pontificate on his dark fascination with his wounded-siren neighbor Trish (Deborah Kara Unger), and I could talk about his eccentric building-mates—Derrick (Udo Kier), mysterious fix-it man Howard (Lance Henricksen), and the innocuously named Neighbor (Bruce Payne). But in a way, that would be taking a lot of the quirky fun out of this little mindfuck. This is a film that aims to quiver beneath your skin, to unsettle you with its nervous energy, and within the constraints of its minuscule budget and modest production values, it's really quite successful. A particular strength of the film is its look—a saturated neo-noir vividness, filled with lurid grain and a tangible grittiness. There are scenes that feel as if you're inside the wet, gray meat of Simon's cerebrum, and—not to discredit performance and script—I attribute a lot of the film's feel to its cinematography. Other scenes have a hollow bleakness, washed out and morgue-like, with sickly flickering greens.
The film's flaws are of the mostly forgivable variety. At times, Paranoia: 1.0 can be ponderous—and I know that's the intention. Still, there's a fine line between deliberate moodiness and overdoing the slow, paranoid burns. The film also tends toward repetition, offering two or three similar scenarios when just the one would've sufficed. And this is the type of film that many viewers will find inscrutable on first viewing—many of its elements tend to confound until you rewatch a couple of times. I'm sure that was the intention of the filmmakers. That's fine. It's just that sometimes the film can be a bit maddening in its vagaries. Paranoid: 1.0 can be frustrating in places, but its style and nervous ambition make it an uneasy sleeper. Give it a shot.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
ThinkFilm presents Paranoia: 1.0 in a surprisingly involving anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. This isn't the most perfect transfer in the world, but at least it accurately conveys the film's lurid color palette, which is soaked in moody reds and greens. Detail isn't spectacular, but it's acceptable, and sharpness is good if not memorable. Blacks are inky—perhaps too inky. Some details are absolutely lost in blackness. There are many moments throughout when I'm tempted to fault the transfer, but I think all the high-contrast blooming and scenes of grain and darkness are intended by the director for the look of the film. At certain points, I did notice some rather heavy edge halos, as well as some artifacting in backgrounds.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is effective in accurately conveying the nightmarish mood of the film. Dialog is accurate and clear, and the movie's ever-present bass thrum does a great job of unnerving you. The string-based score is conveyed nicely.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The Paranoia: 1.0 DVD comes with a few enticing extras, the most prominent of which is a Director's Commentary with Jeff Renfroe and Marteinn Thorsson. This is low-key track with constant participation, and I found it quite interesting because the directors spell out their intentions for the film moment by moment, whether that be character motivation or plot points or setting choices. If you have difficulty grasping the finer points of this film's narrative, this track is going to make everything crystal clear for you. You might even come to the conclusion—as I did—that the film doesn't quite do a perfect job of conveying certain points within the narrative. I enjoyed the camaraderie of this track, and the bountiful information it provides.
The 22-minute Making of Paranoia: 1.0 is a weirdly narrated collection of silly behind-the-scenes moments, mostly composed of mindless, endless mock interviews with cast and crew about the whereabouts of the film's directing team, nicknamed Waterfall/Fjord. This rather annoying featurette is pretty much dominated by a psychedelic voiceover (by the featurette's creator, Gio. Shanger) that becomes a painfully intrusive stream-of-consciousness blather. I found myself wishing that he would just be quiet and let me listen to the many actual interview subjects in the short piece. That, or devote a commentary over this thing to his oddball musings. But then you realize that all the interviews are ridiculous. This is one of the weaker making-of pieces I've ever seen.
Next up are 26 minutes worth of Deleted Scenes, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. You can tell why most of these 14 scenes were deleted, as they're mostly redundant. However, some of these might have added a little clarity to the film's narrative, for better or for worse. You can choose to view these scenes with director commentary, and the comments are somnambulant but occasionally intriguing: Over one scene, one director says, "This is one of the greatest scenes in the film, but unfortunately it ended up cut." No explanation. All you can think is Why?. The final three "scenes" are Unofficial Trailers, whatever that means.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Paranoid: 1.0 isn't doing itself any favors with that title, but if you can get past it, you're in for a cool little mindbender. It's not a great film, but it's effective for what it attempts. Image and sound quality are fine, and extras are fairly illuminating (with one notably annoying exception).