Interior designer Jana Mercer (Brigitte Bako) is haunted by the night that her entire family was murdered by serial killer, Calvin Hawks (Larry Drake). Even though Calvin was captured and imprisoned, she still fears that someday he’ll get out. Calvin, meanwhile, feels that he and Jana have a special bond because he decided to allow her to live. From his prison cell, he follows her life via the internet. He even sends her messages, which doesn’t do much for her state of mind. Finally, a former neighbor of hers invites her to return to her old neighborhood so that she can confront her fears. However, after serving 20 years in prison, Calvin has been released for good behavior. As a part of his parole, he is not allowed to go anywhere near Jana or any of the scenes of his crimes. Soon after getting released, Calvin decides to violate his probation. A serial killer violating probation? Who would have guessed?
Paranoia raises a few questions. What type of prison would allow a serial killer to have a laptop in his cell and access to the internet, let alone send out messages unsupervised? What type of legal system would sentence a serial killer to only 20 years in prison? Why wouldn’t the authorities make any effort to let Jana, as the sole survivor of Calvin’s crimes, know that Calvin is about to be released from prison? Why would Jana, a recluse who says she is incapable of trusting people, be so quick to accept an invitation to go to the country with someone that she barely knows? It makes no sense but the movie still somehow maintains enough suspense to work.
The best thing about Paranoia are the performances of Brigitte Bako and Larry Drake. Bako, who was one of the best of the 90s direct-to-video stars, brings some needed sass to the role of Jana while Larry Drake was a B-movie veteran who always made a good villain. Larry Brand, who also did Overexposed and The Drifter, wrote and directed Paranoia and, just as he did in those two previous films, Brand includes a lot of pop cultural references. It’s not every day that you see a direct-to-video B-movie that includes an inside joke about The Dick Van Dyke Show. Brand and his cast bring some unexpected style to the nonsensical story.
Watching Paranoia today, it’s hard not to get nostalgic. With a plot that hinges on email almost as much as the plot of Sleepless in Seattle, it’s a 90s film, through and through. They don’t make them like this anymore.