Producers:  Garrick Dion and Matthias Mellinghaus   Director: Isaac Ezban   Screenplay: Scott Blaszak   Cast: Aml Ameen, Martin Wallström, Georgia King, Mark O’Brien, Alyssa Diaz, Josh Blacker, David Harewood and Kathleen Quinlan   Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Grade: C

The multiverse—and mirrors—get a workout in this sci-fi opus, which starts out as a bit of a comedy but gets progressively darker.  “Parallel” is intriguing, but ultimately tries to become too clever and twisty for its own good.

A prologue enigmatically announces the movie’s premise as a woman (Kathleen Quinlan) leaves the bedroom she shares with her husband to go downstairs, only to be killed (and presumably disposed of) by a masked figure that turns out to be her double.  The killer then walks back upstairs and appropriates the dead woman’s life as Karim Hussein’s camera pans deliberately to the bedroom mirror.

The story then shifts to the present day.  The house in Seattle is now being rented by four twenty-something friends, all aspiring entrepreneurs.  Two of them, Devin (Aml Ameen) and Noel (Martin Wallström) are trying to persuade investors to fund their idea for a new app; if they succeed their financial future will be secure. Their success will also be welcomed by their roommates, artistically inclined Leena (Georgia King) and womanizing Josh (Mark O’Brien).

Unfortunately, they’re undercut by a rival (Josh Blacker), and the quartet’s hope to maintain the status quo unravels—until, that is, they find that a portion of their house has been sealed off.  Making their way into it, they discover the mirror, and by accident learn that it provides a portal to alternate universes where different incarnations of themselves reside.  And they work out—in sequences that frankly take up an inordinate amount of time with pseudo-scientific gobbledygook and computations—that they can pass to and from their world into the others without much trouble.

How to benefit from this astonishing finding?  Devin and Noel take the opportunity to outwit their rival and win the app contract, and all of them take the opportunity to have some fun (an episode involving Noel and Josh both impersonating Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone is a low point).    

But that’s not enough for Noel, who wants to use the mirror to steal inventions that have been discovered in other realms but will be miraculous in this one.  (At one point he sees himself as the new Edison.)  Leena, on the other hand, sets her sights on another kind of intellectual property—acclaimed artwork that she can pass off as her own.  Devin, meanwhile, has a more idealistic motive—to alter things in order to save his father (David Harewood), who committed suicide after being unmasked for corruption (which, of course, would also help relieve the childhood trauma he suffered himself).  As for Josh, well, he mostly looks upon the mirror as a way of satisfying his more basic, not to say baser, urges.

In fact, it’s Josh’s lack of restraint that sends  “Parallel” in a different, and decidedly darker, direction: his encounter with an angry husband leads his roommates to take a course of action that proves not just rather ridiculous but ultimately disastrous.  And it sets off a chain of bad decisions by members of the group; some involve their deepest desires, and others simple greed for riches or recognition (that literally involves stealing from their doppelgangers as they sleep, or stealing people’s ideas, or even conspiring with one’s own doubles).  Relationships among the roommates grow strained as well.  By the end they’ve turned on one another and violence erupts; guns are pulled and shots fired, a definite villain emerges, and a gory explosion of mediocre special effects brings matters to a close—not counting, of course, the inevitable silly coda suggesting that things aren’t over yet.

By the time all the convolutions and permutations mount up, you might want to echo a question one of the characters asks another, but direct it to scripter Scott Blaszak instead:  “Why did you have to complicate things?”

It’s a pity the film takes the turn it does, because the premise has worked relatively well for the first fifty minutes. Unhappily the second fifty devolve into rather a confused mess.  In addition, the acting of the young ensemble is variable, especially toward the close, with Ameen coming off best.  Still, by comparison Quinlan, in the brief opening, puts them all to shame.  But the crafts team does good work, given the obvious budgetary limitations.  James Hazell’s production design and Karim Hussain’s cinematography help to create a moody atmosphere, and Ben Baudhuin’s editing does a reasonably good job of keeping things clear, even when they threaten to go completely off the rails toward the close. Edy Lan’s score adds some punch as well.

“Parallel” is an example of an intriguing idea that suffers when filmmakers overthink in an effort to wow their audience with surprises.  It remains interesting, but ends up an interesting failure.