What would you do if you discovered a way into parallel universes? That’s the question Isaac Ezban poses to this New Girl-like friendship group of app developers, led by Martin Wallstrom’s Noel. His friends Devon and Leena (Aml Ameen & Georgia King) are less thrilled about the device than him, but each begin to find their own personal wishes and desires to fulfil. Parallel universes are a popular staple of the sci-fi world by now, look at Stargate’s wormholes or Buffy’s reality-changing wishes, so there’s a lot of familiar ground you can risk covering when it comes to it. Scott Blaszak’s script fortunately keeps some clever considerations to his parallel universes, as the group quickly discover that they can’t predict the lottery, or enact monolithic change like is expected from your standard parallel universe tale.
Blaszak keeps the ‘Alts’, as the group refer them to, imperfectly parallel, thereby enforcing low levels of manipulation from the crew, which creates a far more interesting dynamic – watching Noel figure out that, while they can’t win the lottery, they can steal from themselves as an alternate get-rich-quick scheme has some Machiavellian cunning behind it; if you’re ripping off your double, it’s fine because it’s you, right? Evidently, Parallel becomes more Faustian than futuristic, as we watch the consequences of indulging in greedy antics, driven by this new level of untapped power you’ve come into power with. We watch as some of our characters even begin to dress more like villainous individuals, or just New Age Silicon Valley douchebags, really driving it home that they’re becoming corrupted.
Blaszak also brings a creatively dark quirk to the parallel universe trope – trapping an alt. clone in your original world, and convincing them its their own. It’s horribly genius, as it serves as an existential gaslighting, feeling as though your entire world is just slightly askew, almost as though the Mandela Effect has been cranked up to 11. The worst part of it is that you’d never be able to truly know if your feelings are valid, or if you’ve just lost your mind. It’s wonderfully macabre, and an unsettling avenue not often explored.
Although the film has a lot of interesting and creatively compelling additions to the parallel universe lexicon, it does begin to drag as we shift into our relationship conflicts. There’s an odd love triangle established that feels more contrived than organic, ironic considering the most ‘human’ aspect feels the most unconvincing. It’s an element that could’ve, and perhaps should’ve been trimmed because it’s far from the most interesting conflict. The film’s at its most lively and engaging when Noel is involved, watching him descend into this madman-like Lex Luthor personality, dominating his won world by hijacking the knowledge and information of others is so beautifully Faustian that I wish we’d had more focus with him. Perhaps if it had been reworked so we follow Noel more than we do Leena and Devon, we’d have a very different story on our hand.
There’s also some slightly confusing cinematography at place -it’s got a fluid nature to it, whipping and spinning around unexpectedly, scenes shift at different angles like the time tunnels of Donnie Darko. It’s a little chaotic and unstable, which might add stylistically to the themes Parallel is trying to explore, which is never a bad idea. If you can merge style and content, it creates a much more powerful work. However, the lens flares in Parallel would even make J.J. Abrams wince – there are simply too many, and at times, the number of flares on screen actually distract you entirely from the narrative and the emotions in the scenes, because there’s simply that many. J.J. Abrams truly cursed the film world with his re-introduction of excessive lens flares, and we’re still recovering.
Parallel was definitely somewhat of a surprise, putting some fresh fuel into the ever-burning fire of the parallel universe trope. It’s engaging, and the cast have some strong believability as this close-knit group of friends scattered by their own greed and desires – if you’re a fan of sci-fi or Faustian deals, you should definitely give this a watch.
Parallel is available now on DVD and digital.