In Paralytic, drug cartels are watching and controlling the most vital aspects of the U.S. government. Named cartels include Sinaloa and Juarez, but it is the Chutro cartel that is the true dominator. One of the Chutro cartel’s best contract killers is Carson “The Ghost” Empman (David S. Hogan). When Empman is offered a job working directly with a cartel-created team, he must decide if the benefits of this high stakes job are worth losing his anonymity or even his life.
The film opens with Carson meeting a man named Sergio (Richard Carmen) at a bar to discuss a new job. When Carson declines to be involved in a hit similar to the one that introduced him to Sergio, he must quickly defend himself from Sergio (and his backup) before making his getaway. The scene gives us an immediate taste of action and shows Carson’s calculating and precise nature. The high clip pace is carefully slowed down to give viewers the chance to see how the Chutro cartel operates, understand the team, and progress with the story as it unfolds.
Small Town, Big Trouble
After Caron leaves his meeting with Sergio, he travels to a remote cabin in the woods. He carefully sets up laser triggered alarm systems to ensure his privacy. Here, we see Carson is unwilling to sacrifice his safety, taking every precaution to ensure he will be notified if any intruders enter the property.
At the same time, an anonymous tip comes into the local Sherif’s department. Alice (Darlene Sellers) was off duty at the time the tip was called in, she’s radioed in to investigate as she’s the only available member of the department. Alice brushes off her fellow officer’s inquires and her own son’s phone call to go investigate the scene.
Alice quickly notices Carson’s laser alarm system when she steps onto the scene, but decides to continue investigating the desolate property alone. The sherif uncovers something that will be the key to the career she’s always dreamed of — bringing down the local drug cartels once and for all.
Once Alice has discovered Carson’s hideout and the mystery it entails, the story continuously shifts between the present time and past when Carson was first contracted for this job.
We flash back to when Carson arrives at the winery. Sergio mentions a new head of the cartel, and insists that Carson must consider his three new teammates, Anton (DeRon Brigdon), Lucas “The Doctor” (D’Angelo Midili), and Clarissa (Angela DiMarco) as family.
Immediately, Lucas shows his eccentric side. He has a masterful understanding of anatomy, science, and executing deadly concoctions, yet he has a knack for understanding the psychological aspects of every around him. Lucas enjoys understanding the way fear can motivate or persuade people. Midili gives a convincing performance. He is both confident and self assured while simultaneously being compelled to see his own work in action, which ma cause him trouble.
Anton is a quiet solider ready to get to work. Clarissa comes off as overly confident. Clarrisa wastes no time in making Carson uncomfortable when she tells him intimate details about his past. Their mutual controlling and aloof nature somehow draws them together as they slowly form a bond. Clarissa is determined to break though Carson’s aloof personality despite Sergio warning the team to be careful about what they disclose to one another.
The cartel team learns that their target is the prominent Mayor Amante (Tim Forehand). Instead of a simple contract kill or kidnapping, this hit requires teamwork to administer a deadly serum created by Lucas himself. This serum allows the body to become paralyzed while keeping vital organ functions intact for a brief period of time, prolonging the victim’s suffering.
In the present time, at the cabin, Alice quickly brushes off her unit’s request for an update on what she has found at the cabin. Alice’s desire to solve the crime on her own clearly plays into her personal aspirations of bringing down dangerous criminal networks, though the execution seems a bit flawed. The sherif’s impending transfer to San Francisco to advance her career combined with her own son John’s struggles bring to light Alice’s real motivation for taking down drug cartels. We now understand that her desire to take down these drug cartels isn’t just a cop trying to be the hero, it’s personal.
Having the story alternate between Carson’s point of view at the cabin post-hit, his time at the winery before the hit is executed, and Alice’s time at the cabin helps to give the film a fast pace while also providing character development and giving the viewer clues as to what Carson wants to accomplish.
Director Joey Johnson made a wise choice to pan out on Carson and Alice during key scenes at the cabin, adding to the mystery of what they are each trying to accomplish while creating a healthy amount of suspense and danger.
The film ends with a twist that is both jarring and unsettling. Just when we think we have come to understand these dangerous people and their motives, everything is put into question.
What makes Paralytic interesting is the idea of moral conflict we see in Carson. Alice’s desire to bring justice to her son and keep the public safe is relatable. By contrast, Carson was content in his work as a contract killer until he had to work with a team and play by someone else’s rules. To Carson, the idea of torturing a target isn’t worth a higher paycheck or rank within the cartel. As Carson, Hogan shows the struggle of a man who’s always one step ahead and is unparalleled at his job as he crumbles under the weight of his decisions.
Paralytic premiered on June 3rd, 2016 at the Seattle International Film Festival. Learn more about the film by visiting the official Paralytic website.