Review: ‘Parallel’ (2020), starring Aml Ameen, Martin Wallström, Georgia King, Mark O’Brien, Alyssa Diaz, David Harewood and Kathleen Quinlan

December 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Aml Ameen, Martin Wallström, Georgia King and Mark O’Brien in “Parallel” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Parallel” (2020)

Directed by Isaac Ezban

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Seattle area, the sci-fi drama “Parallel” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black and Hispanic people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four housemates discover that their house has a mysterious mirror that leads to a parallel world where every person on Earth has an alternative look-alike counterpart in the parallel world, which operates at a slower time pace than Earth does.

Culture Audience: “Parallel” will appeal primarily to people who like twist-filled science fiction where the characters in the story have ethical dilemmas.

Martin Wallström and Georgia King in “Parallel” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

What would you do if you could take knowledge from a parallel world that’s almost identical to Earth and bring that knowledge to Earth? And how would it affect your life and the lives of others? Those are the major questions behind the plot and character actions of the sci-fi dramatic thriller “Parallel,” which brings suspenseful and philosophical moments to a flawed but overall entertaining story.

Directed by Isaac Ezban and written by Scott Blaszak, “Parallel” has a few plot holes that aren’t resolved by the end of the movie. However, these unanswered questions don’t take away from the overall storyline, which is held together by the entirely believable premise that people will often go to extremes if they think there’s a shortcut to what they think will make them happy. “Parallel” throws in the complications of greed and loyalty to demonstrate that this shortcut to happiness isn’t as simple as it might seem.

The story in “Parallel” essentially revolves around four friends/co-workers in their mid-to-late 20s who live together in a house in the Seattle area. (“Parallel” was actually filmed in Vancouver.) Noel Eggerton (played by Martin Wallström) is the group’s “alpha male” who think he’s the smartest one and always acts as if he should be the one to make the most important decisions for the group. Devin Parkes (played by Aml Ameen) is also very intelligent, but he’s a lot more sensitive and compassionate than Noel. Leena Fortier (played by Georgia King) is a free-spirited artist who used to be Noel’s girlfriend, but she decided that it wasn’t a good idea to mix business with pleasure. Josh Resig (played by Mark O’Brien) is a laid-back, creative type who has a mischievous side to him.

The four pals work together as the founders of a start-up tech company that’s trying to sell an app where people can rent private parking space to the public. (The name of the company is never mentioned in the movie.) Their goal is to eventually incorporate the app into technology for voice-activated cars.

Noel, Devin and Josh are the main developers of the app, while Leena and Josh share artwork duties, with Leena being the lead artist. Noel and Devin are in charge of sales and marketing. So far, the four friends haven’t had much success with the business. Money is running out, and the four friends might be evicted from their home if they can no longer pay their rent and other bills.

Near the beginning of the film, Noel and Devin are seen giving a sales pitch for the parking app in a boardroom full of bored and skeptical businesspeople. The leader of this business meeting asks if Noel and Devin can have the app ready by a deadline that Noel and Devin admit that won’t be able to meet. To Noel and Devin’s dismay, they find out that an acquaintance of theirs named Seth has put in a competitive bid with the company to develop a similar app. Seth has guaranteed that he can make the company’s deadline.

Adding insult to injury, Seth had previously interviewed to work at the four friends’ start-up company. But instead, Seth took the intellectual property information that he found out during the interview and used it to develop a similar app. Seth’s backstabbing move is an indication of the four friends’ lack of business savvy that they didn’t patent their idea and make Seth sign a non-disclosure/non-compete agreement when he interviewed for a job with their company.

The four friends had been counting on selling the app to the company that has now rejected them. Without this sale, they have reached the dejected conclusion that they can no longer afford to pay their house rent, and their start-up will probably have to go out of business. To drown their sorrows, the four pals go out for drinks at a local bar. Devin tells the other three that he’s thinking of taking another job.

One of the employees of the bar is a bartender named Carmen (played by Alyssa Diaz), who is somewhat aware that Josh has a big crush on her. However, Carmen has a boyfriend, so Josh doesn’t want to make any moves on her. Carmen is friendly to Josh, but she’s not flirtatious. This love triangle ends up being a pivotal subplot to the story.

When the four housemates go home, they find out through a series of random circumstances that the house has a hidden room that contains a mysterious full-length mirror. And they get very freaked out when they see that the mirror’s glass is actually more like a liquid substance. When someone puts a hand through the “liquid glass,” it disappears into a void, but the person is able to pull the hand out of the mirror.

Devin puts his hand in the mirror and describes the feeling as a “warm tingle, like your foot’s asleep.” And when Devin video records the mirror on his phone, he sees that the video shows the room without the four friends in it. Finally, curiosity gets the better of Josh. Before his housemates can stop him, Josh declares before he jumps completely into the mirror: “Neil Armstrong’s got nothing on me!”

What Josh finds on the other side of the mirror is a parallel world where he sees alternative versions of himself, Noel, Devin and Leena in the same-looking house. The four “alternatives” don’t see him though. The four friends in the parallel world have the same names as their Earth counterparts and look exactly like their Earth counterparts. Noel watches as the four “alternative” friends spend time in the backyard for a barbecue, which is something that the real Josh, Noel, Devin and Leena are not currently doing on Earth.

Josh makes his way back to the mirror and returns to Earth in the house’s secret room, where he tells his three friends what he saw. Of course, they’re very shocked at first. But when they see that Josh doesn’t seem to have any side effects from his trip, they decide to get more information about this parallel world. Through a few experimental trips back to the parallel world, the four friends find out that one minute on Earth equals three hours in the parallel world.

In this secret room that they’ve discovered on Earth, the four friends also find diaries from the house’s previous occupant: a hermit named Marissa Widdicomb (played by Kathleen Quinlan, in a cameo), who mysteriously disappeared before the four friends moved into the house. By reading Marissa’s diaries, the four friends discover that Marissa also found out about the secret powers of the mirror. Marissa was a widow grieving over her dead husband, and she decided to find out if her husband was still alive in the parallel world. She tracked down her alternative self in the parallel world, began stalking her alternative self, and found out that her husband’s alternative self was alive and well.

Marissa became so obsessed with wanting her husband back that she planned to murder her alternative self and secretly take her place. This murder is shown at the very beginning of “Parallel.” Viewers find out later in the movie who the people are in this scene and why this murder was committed. In her diaries, Marissa cautions against anyone coming face-to-face with their alternative or “alt” self because it will probably lead to the death of one of the selves.

Despite the tricky and possibly dangerous outcomes of messing with fate in two different worlds, it isn’t long before the four friends decide it’s worth the risk to use this mirror portal to their advantage. Because they’re desperate to sell their app to the company that rejected them, the four friends come up with a scheme to finish the app in the parallel world in order to beat Seth in the deadline. They call the mission “Operation Fuck Seth.”

Sure enough, the plan works. They finish the app before Seth does, and the sale is made. The four friends celebrate by driving to Seth’s house and gloating to him by telling him the news. Seth is incredulous that they made the deadline before he did. And he becomes increasingly suspicious when he sees the four friends’ fortunes go from bad to “too good to be true.”

That’s because greed inevitably takes over, especially with Noel, Leena and Josh. At first, they decide to go to the parallel world, pretend to be their alternative selves, and go on spending sprees by buying things that the alternative selves will have to pay for but the real selves on Earth can enjoy. (There’s a montage of all the gifts that the greedy pals buy for themselves and bring back to Earth.)

And then, two of the friends decide to take knowledge from the parallel world that isn’t known yet on Earth, and use that knowledge to get rich and famous. Noel decides to steal technology ideas, while Leena (who has always dreamed of being the type of celebrated artist who has her own exhibit at an art gallery) steals art ideas. They both get a lot of praise, recognition and financial rewards for their stolen ideas that they pass off as their own.

Josh doesn’t get as deep into stealing as Noel and Leena do, but Josh doesn’t disapprove of what they’re doing either. Josh’s main concern is how to win over Carmen. Meanwhile, Devin is the only one of the four friends who has a conscience and refuses to steal ideas from the parallel world. He warns his friends that they could face serious consequences if they’re caught, but his warnings go unheeded.

Devin has a reason for feeling as guilty as he does: It has to do with his father Martin Parkes (played by David Harewood) and something that haunts Devin that’s explained in the movie but won’t be revealed in this review. It’s enough to say that although Devin won’t steal ideas from the parallel world, he does have a very big motive to use the parallel world to possibly change things about his life.

One of the four friends ends up becoming the worst of the group (it’s easy to predict which one) and there are several things that happen in the story that indeed become life-or-death situations. “Parallel” somewhat devolves into the type of formulaic thriller where certain people turn against each other and loyalties are tested. However, there’s still enough suspense in the story to keep viewers interested in what will happen and how the story will end.

To distinguish between scenes on Earth and scenes in the parallel world, “Parallel” uses different techniques from cinematographer Karim Hussain. The scenes on Earth have a warmer hue, with a lot of gold and brown coloring. The scenes in the parallel world have a bluish glow, with tilted camera angles and slightly warped effects on the camera lens. Viewers who are paying attention will easily be able to notice the differences between these two worlds.

Out of the four actors playing the main characters in “Parallel,” Ameen does the best in portraying a well-rounded person. And that’s mainly because his Devin character is the only one who has a significant backstory. King also fares quite well in portraying Leena, who at times appears to be complicated because she could go either way in some of the decisions that she has to make.

“Parallel” clearly has influences from “The Twilight Zone” and taps into age-old questions about how much in life happens because of fate versus free will. The ending of the movie is a jumbled rush that could have been improved by answering a few questions that remain unanswered. However, the movie is enough of an interesting sci-fi jaunt that’s worth watching if viewers don’t mind keeping track of characters that have look-alike counterparts in a parallel world.

Vertical Entertainment released “Parallel” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 11, 2020.