Paranoia 1.0 (2004)
Starring Jeremy Sisto, Udo Kier, Deborah Unger, and Lance Henriksen
Directed by Jeff Renfroe & Marteinn Thorsson
The new Kafka-esque thriller Paranoia 1.0 (aka One Point 0) is a pitch-black vision of horror, madness, and technology-run-amok that will give cyber-geeks plenty of unpleasant dreams.
The film stars a wonderful cast of horror-film regulars, including Jeremy Sisto, Deborah Kara Unger, Udo Kier, and Lance Henriksen. It was written & directed by first-time filmmakers Jeff Renfroe & Marteinn Thorsson, and shot in Romania on a very small budget.
Sisto stars as Simon J, a lonely computer programmer who is slowly losing touch with reality in some very disturbing ways. After receiving a series of empty packages in the mail, Simon begins to experience bizarre hallucinations, perhaps the result of some type of strange new computer virus. There are hints that some type of widespread disease may have wiped out large numbers of people around the world. Has Simon contracted the virus, or is it something much worse? And why is he drinking gallons of milk all night long?
Soon, bodies begin to pile up with the tops of their heads sawed off.
Sisto is excellent here. Paranoid that he’s become the victim of some horrific plot to drive him insane, Sisto holds the film together, grounding it with real emotion, even as the plot begins to spiral into sci-fi madness. He makes a fine "everyman", somewhat reminiscent of Neo in the first Matrix film. It’s nice to see this very talented actor in a leading role for a change. He proves that he’s more than up to the task.
Udo Kier plays Sisto's freaky apartment neighbor who spends his time building a disembodied robot-head named Adam. This isn’t much of a stretch for Udo; in fact it’s very similar to his recent role as the freaky-apartment-neighbor in the disappointing horror film Love Object (review). Still, it’s good to see this genre icon at work. He always adds something special to a film; no matter what size role he has in it.
Deborah Unger plays a mysterious woman from down the hall, which is basically the same role she played in The Salton Sea. In fact, it’s almost the same role she played in Fincher’s The Game. Unger seems to have cornered the market on this clichéd character. Still, she’s very hot, so I guess I don’t mind, I just wish she had been given more to do here.
Henriksen plays Howard, a homeless ex-scientist who holds some very important clues to Simon’s growing paranoia. Fans of the great Lance Henriksen should rejoice, this one of the actor’s best roles in quite some time. Although not on screen for very long, Lance invests his character with a truly memorable personality.
When was the last time you saw Lance having fun with a role? Lately, this walking legend has been phoning in his performances in a string of direct-to-video crap. Amusingly, it looks as though he’s wearing the same exact costume in Paranoia 1.0 that he wore in Mimic 3; black trench coat and stocking cap. Observant viewers will enjoy the reference Lance makes to an unseen character called "the garbage man" (that was the name of Lance’s character in the third Mimic film). Although the costume may look familiar, the difference in the two performances is extreme. Lance actually sings (briefly) in this film! His performance is full of life again, adding interesting quirks and lovely bits of business to the role.
Although somewhat similar to Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, Paranoia 1.0 still manages to create a new world with it’s own unique vision. This is a much darker film than Cronenberg’s gleaming game-inspired future world. The film is full of crumbling architecture, moldy bricks, and piles of broken technology. The corner market sells milk for $30 per half gallon, and every product label is generic. Deliverymen speed through the empty city streets on motorcycles, delivering drugs, sex, and home security-systems to their shut-in customers.
Best of all, the filmmakers actually provide a possible answer to the question surrounding Simon’s growing paranoia. Although mindfuck movies can be quite entertaining, the lack of answers or decent resolutions usually sends the audience away frustrated. David Lynch, the King of the mindfuck genre, is frequently accused of teasing his audience with too many unanswered questions. Paranoia 1.0 provides a surprisingly moving resolution to the mystery, and the film gains points for playing fair with the audience. There are hints given throughout, although the answer still came as a surprise to me when it was finally revealed. The explanation given at the climax of the film may or may not answer all of your questions, but it does help to provide an emotionally satisfying ending. That’s rare in the mindfuck genre.
The film looks beautiful. Fans of Guillermo del Toro and David Fincher should find a lot to appreciate here. The art direction adds fascinating detail to this future world, and helps to visually explain who these characters are and why they do the things they do. I particularly loved Udo Kier’s creepy apartment, complete with nano-tech furniture (the couch changes color and cleans itself). The design of Kier’s pet robot-head is low-tech but still haunting. Henriksen’s basement bedroom is another wonderfully designed set. Like much in the film, it looks and feels "lived in".
Like Lynch’s work, Paranoia 1.0 has a terrific sound design. Nightmarish voices drift from the vents in Simon’s apartment, strange static screams from his rotary phone, and the sounds coming from his computer seem to suggest that it’s alive...but dying. Best of all is the haunting voice of Kier’s robot-head. This is a film worth listening to.
On the negative side, the film occasionally seems too repetitive. Simon’s growing insanity keeps manifesting itself in overly familiar ways, while the audience impatiently waits for something new to happen. Too much time is spent simply watching Simon slowly fall apart in his dingy apartment.
The film feels a bit too claustrophobic at times. The rare glimpses of life outside of the apartment building help to provide a break from the endless gloomy hallways, but not enough to keep the film feeling fresh from start to finish. This may be the result of the low budget, but it still keeps the film from moving beyond the standard set-bound futuristic dystopia.
The dark mood of the film also weighs things down a bit too heavily. A bit more black humor might have helped to lighten things up without sacrificing the darkness at the heart of the story. Fans of Cronenberg and Philip K. Dick may find the plot a bit too familiar. Certainly, there are many things here that we have all seen before.
A few subplots go nowhere, like a pair of police detectives that show up occasionally but provide nothing more than a fleeting noir reference. A long sequence involving a virtual-reality simulator provides a few arresting images and effects, but does nothing to advance the story. These are narrative dead-ends, and tend to drag the pace of the film down.
I kept hoping for the filmmakers to deliver a final image of pure body-horror, but it never came. The film deals with disease, bio-mechanical viruses, and contagion, so there was plenty opportunity to show us more than it does. Although there are a few unsettling images scattered throughout the film, there’s no final visual revelation to shock us. I’m thinking of something similar to the revelation of Samantha Eggar’s hideous tumors in Cronenberg’s The Brood; a final image of horror-made-flesh that would have ended the film on a much stronger note.
Finally, the relationship between Simon and the mysterious woman from down the hall falls flat emotionally. These two characters never seem to connect in an interesting way. There’s something missing between them. Sisto and Unger have zero chemistry together, although each is fine on their own. The filmmakers would have been wiser to spend more time on the relationship between Sisto and Henriksen. These two actors work well together, and their scenes are among the best in the film.
Although it’s not 100% original, Paranoia 1.0 still managed to crawl it’s way nicely under my skin. The film raises some truly interesting questions, and does so with a lot of style. The performances are all very good, and look of the film is simply wonderful. After seeing it, you may find yourself suspicious of that carton of milk in your refrigerator.
3 out of 5
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