The spirit of shoestring-budget, seat-of-your-pants filmmaking of the most inventive sort is alive in Aotearoa, in this homegrown psychedelic fantasy courtesy of Kiwi filmmaker Michael Duignan.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
What is The Paragon? It’s a question that Dutch (Benedict Wall) is about to find out the answer to in this microbudget fantasy-comedy set in an Auckland that has become the battleground of powerful psychics.
An everyday schmo, Dutch is special in approximately one way—he’s died recently. The victim of a hit and run, he was technically not of-the-living for about six minutes before he was resuscitated. Now, seriously injured after the accident and needing a crutch to walk, the one-time tennis instructor is out for revenge, and seeks the help of mysterious psychic Lyra (Florence Noble) to teach him how to use telepathy to find the person who hit him. Turns out, it’s the fact that Dutch has died that gives him access to an immense power—and draws him into a reality-bending battle with Lyra’s brother Haxan (Jonny Brugh), who seeks to use a mysterious crystal known as "The Paragon" to take over the world.
Made for only $25,000, The Paragon is a testament to Kiwi ingenuity and can-do attitude, a phantasmagorical comedy that swings well above its weight class. Our two heroes, as played by Wall and Nobel, enjoy an easy chemistry, while supporting players like Brugh (vamping it up to levels of camp that rival his What We Do In The Shadows role) and Michelle Ang bring laughs and pathos to this story of psychic revenge. As written and directed by Duignan, The Paragon’s clever, fleet story moves like a rocket, employing knowingly handmade special effects to give the film’s telekinetic sequences a trippy, off-kilter feel. Duignan and his team make a lot out of a little, giving the film a wide scope while maintaining the spirit of low-budget New Zealand cinema in the footsteps of Bad Taste. — Tom Augustine