Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Parallels" (2015)

Starring Mark Hapke, Jessica Rothe and Eric Jungmann
Written and directed by Christopher Leone
Unrated - Violence, language
Running Time: 83 Minutes

Estranged siblings Ronan (Mark Hapke) and Beatrix Carver (Jessice Rothe) both receive a cryptic message from their father (Yorgo Constantine) demanding that they go to a certain address before a certain time. When they arrive, with their friend Harold (Eric Jungmann) in tow, they find an abandoned building, the interior of which is covered in strange graffiti that references things that never happened.

Soon enough they discover that the building itself is somehow a portal to alternate versions of Earth. Every 36 hours, anyone inside the building "jumps" to a new world with an alternate history. The first world the trio encounters is a post-apocalyptic wasteland where they meet Polly (Constance Wu) who explains the "rules" to them. Together, the four of them embark on an adventure to find Ronan and Beatrix's father, discover the nature of the building and the strange device their father left that Polly says could be technology from something called "The Core World."

I've always had a certain fascination with alternate worlds and parallel universes. Whether it's World War II going a different way, Spock with a goatee or whathaveyou... I'm there. I have fond memories of the Fox TV series "Sliders" — memories that were somewhat shattered rewatching it as an adult and discovering that only the first two seasons are anything worth a damn.

In March of 2015, Netflix brought us "Parallels." It seems to have been produced as the pilot for a TV series, but when all the networks passed on it, Fox sold the pilot to Netflix as a standalone feature. It presents a number of mysteries, the kind that are all setup for future episodes, and then proceeds to not answer any of them. In fact, the film's climax is essentially a scene designed to set the foursome on their grander adventure. Y'know, typical TV pilot cliffhanger stuff.

Character development is next to nil, as one would expect in a TV pilot where we're merely introduced to the characters and then expected to follow them through further episodes as they grow and learn. That said, this does a decent job setting up those characters with distinct personalities and backstories — except for Polly, who is left purposely vague since she ultimately becomes one of those mysteries meant to be solved later.

As far as acting goes, no one here is going to win any awards. The dialogue is occasionally too expository, and even these actors struggle with delivering some of their lines.

Production value is relatively high, though the small number of locations and sets again points to "TV pilot." The characters only travel to two worlds in this 83-minute feature, split evenly enough that you can even see the part where a TV repeat would cut off with a "to be continued..." The effects for bringing these two worlds to life are well done. In the second world, a technologically advanced society, some of the technology on display is intriguingly designed. The alternate Harry's laptop, for example, is a neat take on what could be that world's Apple Macbook Pro.

And herein really lies the problem. As a TV pilot, "Parallels" works just fine. I'd really be down with watching future episodes to see where it goes. As a standalone movie, it's frustrating as hell. There's no resolution to anything. The two worlds the characters visit are interesting enough, but also pretty obvious stuff. Do the writers have more intriguing ideas for future Earths? They've set up a mythology, but do they have any idea where it's going?

Without any subsequent episodes to judge it on, "Parallels" is just a decent low-budget sci-fi feature. If you're into alternate universe stories, go ahead and give "Parallels" a go, but know going in that you're not going to get any closure on anything and that by itself, it's going to be pretty slight. As such, it's difficult to recommend other than on the hopes that if enough people watch it, we might get to see where it goes.

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