Mexican director Isaac Ezban impressed with the ingenious Twilight Zone-style fantasy Los Parecidos (The Similars) in 2015. Here, he relocates to Seattle and, working from a script by Scott Blaszak, continues to mine the same vein of character-based fantasy. The premise has a little in common with the underrated German Mads Mikkelsen movie The Door, but Parallel develops it in a much more intricate, Butterfly Effect-Primer manner, making for a film that will take a few viewings to parse completely since it trusts the viewer to fill in some crucial gaps as a group of house-sharing friends fall out (after the manner of Shallow Grave and many others) when they discover a spooky antique mirror in a sealed attic that affords access to a myriad near-identical ‘alts’ (alternate universes) that can be raided for fun and profit and philosophical quandary.
In a prologue, a woman (Kathleen Quinlan) wakes up in the middle of the night and is killed by her doppelganger, who slips into bed next to a husband who isn’t strictly hers – she leaves behind the device, whose origins are never explained, and helpful journals the much younger main characters are too restless to read properly until it’s too late. Driven Noel (Martin Wallstrom), more laid-back Josh (Mark O’Brien) and slightly uptight Devin (Aml Ameen) are software developers eager to get funding for an app start-up, and sharing a house with sidetracked artist/designer Leena (Georgia King). They discover the mirror just after they’ve been given an impossible deadline, and are immediately most interested in using an alt – where time runs faster than their baseline reality – to do three weeks work of work overnight and cut out a treacherous former colleague. Then, each of the housemates starts exploring other potentials – stealing credit cards from their sleeping doppelgangers and going on shopping sprees they’ll never have to pay for (reasoning that their doubles would do the same to them if they could) … Leena finds successful artwork and plagiarises it in her reality, embarking on a gallery career … Josh blows up a million dollars in cash for no real reason … Devin searches through alts to find one where his disgraced father (David Harewood) didn’t commit suicide … and Noel forages for exploitable tech to found his own multi-dimensional business empire, even transgressing an unwritten rule by entering into conspiracies with his own equally ruthless counterparts.
Of course, all the fun turns sour – one of the gang comes back from an alt with a fatal wound, and the survivors opt to avoid exposure and a possible murder charge by kidnapping a replacement from another reality and trying to convince the double that this world is home, though a few tiny stray wrong details put a disproportionate strain on his fragile sanity. When Leena and Devin sleep together, a jealous Noel – who has never got over a brief relationship with Leena – resorts to extreme measures to get the girl back, struggling to cope with the fact that human beings aren’t as easily manipulated and tidied away as the fundamental laws of space and time seem to be. There’s a chill to the whole thing, which depends on all the characters being flawed to such an extent that it’s hard to root for even the comparative innocents as the true psychopath among them becomes an exponential threat to them – and maybe even to the universe – but it’s still a compulsive, ingenious, witty exploration of a spaghetti tangle of wormholes, with one delightfully gruesome coup de cinema and a great many barbed little subtleties.