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By Calan Panchoo | March 22, 2023

Low-budget horror is fertile soil to explore many of the darker aspects of life without the need for banal, paint-by-numbers scares. However, all good horror, regardless of budget, is able to utilize theme and character to reach a point of revelation. Paralysis, written and directed by Levi Austin Morris, focuses on the themes of trauma and grief to attempt a personal story but struggles with characterization. By the end, the sole revelation is the uneven execution.

Haley (Allison Lobel) has isolated herself from everyone — her friends and family — except for her brother Nicky (Levi Austin Morris), who lives with her. Both siblings are dealing with the emotional collateral of family tragedy. To worsen matters, Haley experiences spells of sleep paralysis during which she encounters supernatural hallucinations.

This all seems like rich ground from which to produce a suitably horrifying tale, but Paralysis fails to mesh its story with any tangible reality. Every character falls into a binary of oppressively evil — such as Haley’s parents — or angelic and misunderstood, as is the case with the brother. There’s no in-between or lived nuance. Nicky, in particular, who is presented as a victim of circumstance, comes across as petulant for the majority of the movie.

“…Haley experiences spells of sleep paralysis during which she encounters supernatural hallucinations.”

Further, the severity of Haley’s isolation is ambiguous to a fault — she leaves to go on walks with her brother; she ignores messages from her mother like an adolescent; she lives in a surprisingly nice house but has no job. There is never any sense that her character exists in a real, constant world. In order to create believability, Morris needed to immerse audiences into this movie’s universe so it’s tangible. The confusion here hinders the character’s arc and the horror.

Aesthetically, the film is entirely shot with an iPhone 11, and the resulting visuals have that too-real quality of HFR films. At times this is used to great effect, as it is combined with a strong understanding of angles to create eerieness within Haley’s house, where most of the plot is set. On the other hand, it also highlights the consistently overdone dialogue. Similarly, the actual horror is ill-matched. A few standout shots make great use of shadow to deliver genuine anxiety, but these are scarce. What fills out most of the runtime is a series of derivative jump scares. This is all exacerbated by a narrative engorged with ideas. Many key points are presented as important only to later be cast aside; awkwardly, this includes the titular condition of Hayley’s sleep paralysis. The narrative never knows how to present itself because too much is going on.

Technically Paralysis showcases skill and resourcefulness, but instead of exploring themes through Haley and Nicky, the characters become burdened by those themes. The siblings act and speak in reductionist ways so often that empathizing with them often feels impossible. In turn, this undermines the greater ideas at work. The film had every potential to create something memorable, and there are glimpses of such, but its overstated execution results in a movie that is both padded and diluted.

Paralysis (2022)

Directed and Written: Levi Austin Morris

Starring: Allison Lobel, Lisagaye Tomlinson, Levi Austin Morris, Bethany Koulias, Emerson Gregori, etc.

Movie score: 4.5/10

Paralysis Image

"…horror is fertile soil to explore many of the darker aspects of life..."

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