In 2021, a tech start-up promising to “disrupt” is essentially a cliché.
It’s hard to find an industry where someone isn’t vowing their new app or service will change everything, even if this innovation won’t change all that much — or could make the world substantially worse.
But when the pioneers of Parallel tell you they want to disrupt things, believe them. Because in Isaac Ezban’s 2018 English language debut, the characters come into contact with a magic mirror that lets them wreak havoc on alternate universes to their heart’s delight.
This underrated sci-fi gem is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Vudu; here’s why you should add it to your watchlist.
Working from Scott Blaszak’s screenplay, Parallel’s cold open features a wonderfully tense home invasion sequence. An elderly couple is going to bed in a big house, and the wife (Kathleen Quinian) goes downstairs, only to be met by an unexpected guest. Ezban shows the intruder first in a mirror, then with their gun to the woman’s back. After a quick execution, the intruder takes off their mask to reveal it’s the same woman, who goes back upstairs to her waiting husband.
From there, the film pivots away, and it’s time to meet Noel (Martin Wallström of Mr. Robot), Josh (Mark O’Brien of Halt and Catch Fire), Devin (Aml Ameen of I May Destroy You), and Leena (Georgia King of Devs), four long-time friends and sometimes lovers who all met in college and are convinced they can make it big in the sharing economy. Their idea? Get people to sell their parking spaces to each other in an app called Meter Maid.
It’s an idea that’s decent if you squint, but the four don’t even get the chance to see it through, as a banished former fifth friend, Seth (Chad Krowchuk of Batman V Superman), stabs them in the back. Stealing the idea from Devin, he manages to build his own version of the app, one that has the edge given the mere fact it will be finished first.
All their plans turned to dust, the friends plot their next move in the mysterious old house they’ve lived in since the previous owner disappeared. Despite the warnings of a cute bartender (Alyssa Diaz) Josh is crushing on, the four have lived there without incident for years. Then, one day, they discover a magic mirror that takes them to alternate universes where time moves slower.
A lot slower, in fact. The rules of these alternate universes, which the crew come to call “alts” like private Twitter accounts, are laid out clearly. Fifteen minutes there equals five seconds here. Like the B-plot in a recent episode of Rick and Morty, this time differential makes their alts a perfect hiding place to magically beat out the group’s Benedict Arnold and get their versions of the app finished in record time.
But now, the group has been presented with untapped potential. They discover that the alts are very similar to their own universe, down to their own group dynamic existing almost identically, but little changes start to accumulate. Names are spelled differently. And as they look for more ways to get rich, they find that creative decisions have been made differently in certain alts.
Each of the four has something they’re looking for, like a group forming a heist. Noel is looking for tech innovations, Josh is looking to get laid, Leena is trying to find artistic inspiration, and Devin is trying to find a world in which his disgraced father didn’t kill himself.
Speaking in an interview when the movie was released on VOD last year, Ezban says that both Parallel and his earlier works have been influenced by what he calls The Twilight Zone’s element of “human-sci.”
The characters, he says, are “smart enough to see the mirror as a possibility to become wealthier and expand their company, yet they don’t see how that is going to end up destroying their relationships and everything they have between them, and eventually their lives.”
Parallel doesn’t dig too deep into the careers of its characters, but its plot speaks for itself: a startup valuing short-term profits over long-term destruction? Hard to imagine, right?
Things don’t quite work out in all these selfish quests, as one might expect. But Devin’s quest is a standout. When he finally finds his father (David Harewood of Supergirl), their one scene together is rich with dramatic power. Devin finds himself both desperately not wanting to become his father, and guilt-ridden that his own actions could have driven a man he loved to such a desperate act.
Parallel is full of small human moments like this. There’s the way the group discovers surprising differences through Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, a sudden scene of them playing Godfather while blowing up a million dollars, and a wonderfully gory ending.
“A good friend of mine always says, “Any great sci-fi movie has to become a great horror movie in the last 15 minutes,” and if you think about it, that’s actually true,” Ebanez says in his interview with horror blog Rue Morgue.
Filmed in only 23 days, Parallel is a fun sci-fi movie in the vein of a Twilight Zone episode, one that never takes itself too seriously. The catalog of “alternate dimension” sci-fi is sprawling, but this is a welcome edition.
Parallel is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Vudu.