The poster for PARALLEL is slick and blue and makes it look like a super slick high-tech sci-fi thriller. The trailer has a similar vibe. Both, I think, do this film a disservice. PARALLEL is science fiction, sure. It’s a parallel world story, a “what if” that explores what would happen if you had access to a nearly infinite range of variations on the world you live in. But more than that it’s an intimate, character-driven story of four friends who find what looks like a miracle only to discover it’s really a Faustian curse. For accessing these worlds brings wealth and fame and all that comes with it, but there is a price, a tax on the soul, if you will, for trading on another world’s riches as your own.
Leena (Georgia King), Noel (Martin Wallström), Josh (Mark O’Brien) and Devin (Aml Ameen) are friends that rent an old house together. They are tech developers, trying to make it big with an app designed for renting out unused parking spaces. They are not hugely successful, but they seem to enjoy each others’ company and quirks, and failure doesn’t get them down for long.
One night a bit of horseplay knocks a hole in the wall, and they discover a hidden staircase that leads to an attic that seems fairly normal, if old. There is a periscope that looks into all the rooms downstairs, another secret entrance that leads to a tunnel outside, and an old, oxidized mirror. The mirror is the thing. See, when Devin touches it, his hand passes through.
My favorite part of haunted house stories and loads of otherworldly sci-fi and fantasy is the section where the protagonists try to figure out the rules. What can the ghost do, and why? Who is behind it all? What do the aliens want? How does the magic work? What are the costs? The four friends find the journal of the previous tenant of the house, Marissa (Kathleen Quinlan), who used the mirror obsessively to try to find an alternate version of the world where her husband was still alive. Then, as we see in the cold open, she kills her “alt” self and takes her place.
The mirror takes the traveler to a different alternate world each time. The periscope is to check if anyone is in the house to avoid awkward conversations. At first the differences are so minor it takes them some heavy research to find them: it seems that creativity is the main difference. Creatives, be they artists or inventors, seem to go in different directions from alt to alt. And as an added bonus, hours in an alt pass as only seconds in our world. Their first trick is to use this time dilation to get extra days to develop their app. No harm, no cost, just a useful new tool. Easy. Made them a few bucks. But, of course, why stop there…
The cinematography is what makes PARALLEL really stand out. It’s not sly about it, either. The alt universes are blue-tinted, our world is nostalgically gold-tinted. Reflected people are often shown flipped, warped, distorted. The characters are real, not especially interesting, just…real. It’s easy to play the “what would I do in their place?” game, but that bland realness makes the decline all the more evocative.
I like a good “what if” story. It’s the best kind of sci-fi there is (or horror or fantasy for that matter). And PARALLEL is a good one. Also, I love the idea of finding secret spaces in a rental house.
7.5 out of 10 Blue Reflections