Four friends, struggling to launch a parking app, discover a strange secret in the old house they rent together: a mirror in the attic that takes them into parallel worlds. That’s the premise of Parallel, a sci-fi thriller that is available today (December 11) in select theaters and and on demand. I was provided with an early screener to watch the film.
First, some quick facts: Parallel is unrated, though given the content I’d probably give it an R for language and some limited violence and gore (though the gore is … gory). There are references to sex but nothing seen on-screen. You could probably watch it with older teens, but it’s definitely not a kids’ movie. It was written by Scott Blaszak, directed by Isaac Ezban, and stars Martin Wallström, Georgia King, Mark O’Brien, and Aml Ameen as the four friends, as well as appearances by Alyssa Diaz, David Harewood, and Kathleen Quinlan. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes. Here’s the movie trailer:
What the friends soon discover is that the mirror portal brings them into a world that’s mostly like their own, and one major difference: time passes more slowly in their own world than in the portal world. So they can go into the portal, spend a lot of time, and then come back into their own world before too much time has passed. Their first use of the portal is a clever hack, making the most of the extra time to meet a coding deadline.
After that, though, they quickly move on to other experiments (and, curiously, that time differential doesn’t seem to play much of a role anymore), searching for ways in which these worlds differ from their own. Noel starts off by stealing from his parallel selves: since each trip through the portal seems to lead to a different “alt,” he can snatch his own unguarded wallet an unlimited number of times, building up the bank account for his company. Leena finally gets a gallery show by reproducing paintings she discovers in one of the alt. Devin is hesitant to abuse the portal, but searches for an alt in which his father is still alive. And Josh? Well, he’s been pining after their next-door neighbor, and the portal gives him countless opportunities to try to impress her, 50 First Dates–style.
The motivations of the characters remind me a little of the time-travel movie Primer: upon making this huge discovery with limitless possibilities, it’s hard for the characters to come up with much more than “get rich and famous” or “impress the ladies.” A book series I read recently, The Walls of the Universe and The Broken Universe by Paul Melko, also played around with some similar ideas with parallel worlds: one of the main characters accidentally “invents” pinball because the world he gets stuck in doesn’t have it already. In Parallel, Devin ends up serving as the group’s conscience: although he was curious about the portal, he’s the least interested in exploiting it for personal gain. As he voices his concerns, his relationship with the others is strained, particularly with Noel, who is increasingly committed to the success of his company.
The movie doesn’t use a lot of flashy special effects, which may have worked to its benefit, because it helps to ground the movie a bit more in the present world. Also, I wasn’t familiar with most of the actors in Parallel, so that made the “group of unknown young adults” plotline a bit more convincing for me. I did like the way that they changed the overall color palette when the characters are in a mirror world, just to help viewers follow the plot, and the film also plays with mirrors and perspectives throughout.
Despite what the movie poster (seen below) may imply, it’s not really an action movie—it’s more of a psychological thriller, as you piece together what the characters are up to. That’s especially true of Noel: what is he capable of? Where does he draw the line?
Parallel isn’t perfect: there were some plot points that I could see coming, so parts of it felt predictable. I was also hoping to see something more come of the time differential because it felt akin to time travel (one of my favorite genres). But overall I was still intrigued by the story, and I enjoyed watching these four actors play off each other as their relationships were pushed to the extremes. If you like stories about multiverses and alternate selves, Parallel will take you into a different world for an evening.