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Parallel (2018)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 12/12/18 19:17:58

"Having other worlds to run off to isn't all it's cracked up to be."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Parallel" sometimes feels like two or three high-concept sci-fi films sewn together, not always cleanly, and then accelerated with certain bits taken out to increase the suspense in the second half. It's kind of exhausting at times, to be honest, a puzzle box that keeps inventing new rules lest the characters solve it to fast. Still, it's kind of impressive that it doesn't become just frantic.

It takes place in Seattle, where a software development team lives and works together in the same house where something weird happened before the opening credits: Noel (Martin Wallström), the business-savvy team leader; Leena (Georgia King), his girlfriend and the team's UX designer; Josh (Mark O'Brien), kind of a doofus with a big crush on a local bartender (Alyssa Diaz) but a good coder; and Devin (Aml Ameen), a more grounded programmer. They discover a hidden staircase in their house, leading up to an attic which includes a weird mirror that lets them walk into parallel worlds. Not weird, "what if the Nazis won WWII" worlds, but ones almost identical to their own, but with a few caveats - the mirror never takes them to the same alternate universe twice, and time runs 180 times faster there. So, if you've got a deadline in four days rather than the four weeks you'd planned on, you may find an opportunity there, as well as all sort of other temptations.

Tech and software development are certainly not the only places where something like this will get misused, but there's a certain fitting ingenuity in setting it there; the freelance workers/contractors, impossible deadlines that require cramming more man-hours than is strictly legal into a week, and frequent decision to outsource development to people in what may as well be another world will likely seem especially familiar to people in that business, as will the sense, in later parts of the movie, that other people see you as a replaceable body, and that people do not know what comes next but are certain that "disruption" is good. Director Isaac Ezban and writer Scott Blaszak seem to have a better grasp on it than a lot of filmmakers do (writers and artists have a different sort of grinding, freelance/gig economy to deal with).

It's not enough just to state a good metaphor, though; you've got to make a compelling story out of it, and sometimes that means stepping back into something more conventional. Blaszak's script seldom does that, and for the most part that's a positive - he's able to take his situation and figure out another unsettling way for it to play out several times, and if that sometimes means he's leaving the audience feeling a bit untethered from where they started, well, that's part of what makes this situation unnerving, isn't it? The film nevertheless sometimes moves a little too fast to really get all the heft it wants to out of all of its storylines, but Ezban can at least get the nuggets of what's interesting out, and the end has a great sort of take-no-prisoners ruthlessness, even if Ezban & Blaszak can't resist "one last…" temptation as credits are about to roll.

It's got a nice cast, too, with the main group all giving the sort of performances from the start where the audience is in good hands no matter how lead/supporting stuff eventually shakes out. Georgia King, playing the only woman on the team, has a tendency to get a bit more focus, and she's up for it, standing in for the audience with the right amount of wariness and curiosity, although Mark O'Brien is the one who gets the most interesting differences to play with alternate versions of Josh. Aml Ameen is a bit underserved, with Devin spending a lot of time on a side-plot that doesn't connect as much with the other characters, but Martin Wallström seems to have a grand time diving into the most eager and ambitious of the group.

There are bits of "Parallel" that perhaps could use a little tweaking to get every part of the movie better connected to the others; there's enough going on there that it might be a smarter thriller that way rather than occasionally wandering down other paths. Still, that tendency to wander lets it have surprises, and this movie does have a couple of good ones.

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