Paralysis (2022) Review
Haley Stone’s (Allison Lobel, Whine Party, Gone Doggy Gone) life is falling apart due to a tragedy in her life. She suffers from sleep paralysis and has become a recluse, her only consistent point of contact being her brother Nicky (Levi Austin Morris, Caravaggio and My Mother the Pope, The Tea). Of course, you really can’t blame her for avoiding some people, when she finally answers a call from her mother (Ann Kathleen Jensen, The Maldonado Miracle) all the woman does is yell and guilt trip her.
Her mother may have a point however, her condition not only isn’t getting better it’s getting worse. Her dreams about a demonic looking hag (Bethany Koulias, Toolbox, Obscura) are becoming more intense and blurring the line between nightmare and reality. Becoming convinced the presence isn’t just a dream she consults Annisa (Lisagaye Tomlinson, Infernal, A Violent Act), a paranormal investigator.
Paralysis is Morris’ movie, apart from playing Nicky he wrote, directed, edited, and did some of the cinematography. And it’s obvious almost from the start that he had something in mind that wasn’t just another generic dreamtime boogeyman horror film like A Nightmare on Elm Street and its descendants such as Conjuring: The Beyond although it does have several similarities to Come True.
Morris is as much interested in the mental health aspects of the situation For the first half hour Paralysis concentrates heavily on the baggage and issues Haley and her brother are carrying and the way it’s affecting their lives. At first, I wasn’t seeing the connection, but around the halfway point there’s a reveal which puts things into place.
Once the film gets to that point the pace does start to pick up, but Paralysis never becomes more than what you might call a medium burn. It’s paced quite deliberately with scares intermingled with flashbacks. Both they and the nightmare sequences are fairly seamlessly worked into the film. While that’s a good thing with the scare sequences, it can be a bit disorienting with the flashbacks until you realize what’s going on.
On a technical level Paralysis is impressive for a movie that was shot on an iPhone for $17,000. That kind of budget obviously didn’t allow for elaborate effects, but the film gets a lot of mileage out of some basic makeup, white contact lenses, and sound effects. It’s a good example of what you can achieve with creativity and talent.
Much of that creativity is put to use in the final act when Haley has to deal with both literal and figurative demons that are haunting her. As well as figures from both her and Annisa’s past there is a male figure with what looks like a carnival mask covering his face who looks particularly ominous. Other figures need to look disturbing without losing their humanity and the makeup effects by Alexandra Bayless (Requiem for a Scream, The Eyes of Tammy Faye) accomplish that nicely.
With only three major characters plus a few voices on the telephone, a lot of the film’s success depends on the performances, especially that of Lobel who is frequently alone on screen. She’s quite convincing as a woman caught in a multi-level nightmare. Morris is solid as her brother and Tomlinson keeps her psychic investigator/demonologist character grounded and believable.
My only real issue with Paralysis is some of the scenes could have used a bit of trimming. For example, a scene near the opening has a few too many shots of Haley holding her head and screaming. Other scenes of characters walking go on longer than needed and throw the pace off. All things considered, though that’s a small complaint in an otherwise impressive film.
Paralysis made its debut at the Culver City Film Festival where it won the Best Horror Film award. It’s currently on the festival circuit. You can check for announcements of future screenings on the film’s Facebook page.