Review of Parallel (2016)
Be forewarned, Parallel (2016) is not for family viewing. When asked to watch the movie with the possibility of reviewing it by executive producer Alexander Cooper, I admit I had my reservations and hesitated to accept the invitation. I had no idea what Parallel, an indie film, was about, and I had no prior knowledge of the graphic and explicit sex scenes it contained.
Then, upon viewing Parallel, as the plot delved into the otherworldly shadows of its premise, through those rather pornographic scenes, gratuitous and shocking, I saw that the whole theme of parallels – which is reflected even in the opening credits – artistically pertained to the film’s concept. The violent natures of two other scenes were reminiscent of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), and while distasteful, I understood the ideas behind them. Seen in context and objectively, I wasn’t offended by the sex or violence, although my underlying sense of morality was shell-shocked.
The concept is clearly and expertly presented, that people have their unrestricted in nature parallels in a parallel world. The tension comes from not only realizing this is so, but knowing it’s a dangerous poker hand to play from when one world invades the other – a “crossover.”
Heather (Faye Sewell) and Neil’s (David Magowan) real world is very normal until they meet an unusual stranger named John Machlis (Brian Carter). Explaining himself first as a psychic, he soon reveals that he can introduce them to an alter world, which they skeptically agree “to visit.” The world they discover is stark emotionally and visually. They’re drawn back numerous times to further explore their parallel worlds.
At times, Parallel has the feel of the silent expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). One also feels and wonders if Heather and Neil’s parallels are watching them – camera angles seem to suggest this, such as on the staircase scene. When they verge on acting-out like their alters, also in the staircase scene, he crosses the line in reality that she’s drawn – she wants to keep both worlds separate – and his dark parallel infiltrates his normal world mindset with displays of anger and crude behaviour and comments.
All the characters in Parallel, including Heather’s work associate Roy (Daniel Westwood) who appears in her alter world, have been reduced to instinctive creatures no longer bound by society rules, conscience or social skills. In the parallel world, they are feelingless creatures with impulsive desires for sex (not love) and the innate urge for power and dominance – the epitome reached by murder. Heather’s parallel, perhaps because of being less aggressive as a female, needs convincing to commit the ultimate act of evil power. In this parallel world there are no consequences for acting on negative impulses – until a crossover, temporary or permanent, into the dark appears imminent.
They’re all tormented in some measure by what they’ve become and done in the parallel. Despite knowing it’s a dark world and they shouldn’t embrace it, they’re drawn magnetically to it, and to Machlis who helps them go deeper into their alter experiences.
Parallel has two potential endings, really. Both are totally unexpected, leaving you confused about how you feel, but not confused about what occurred in each. You want to root for the main characters, hope the best for them, yet you realize you cannot do that or even like them, because of what they’ve participated in and allowed to happen in both worlds.
When at work their boss brings in an expert who explains Machlis as a charlatan and con artist, it doesn’t change the fact that Heather and Neil have become acquainted with sides quite opposite to their natures. Neil admits to liking what he experienced in his parallel. He’s not so sure, however, near the end of the film when he’s disoriented, regretful and confused about which state he’s in.
At one point, Neil asks, “What does that say about us?” Good question. As their parallel entities, they’re no more advanced than the first walking-upright men, who killed to eat, took everything by force if necessary, animals relying on pure instinct to survive and have perverse, loveless pleasure when needed. Not quite zombies, but an army of these parallels if controlled might indeed surpass robots and mere humans if they were to be utilized by a country’s military.
Make-up is at times garish, mannequin-ish. Lighting is often harsh in the real world and dark in the other world. The script is tightly written; dialogue is intelligent, to the point. All characters were perfectly cast. The overall production design is sleek, with a stylish, economic use of sets and exterior locations. The camera work is frequently brilliant, impressive, perhaps with a nod to the most shadowy of Kubrick visions. The directors and director of photography have succeeded in initially creating an underplayed calm in the normal world which increasingly snaps to horrific raw action in the black and white parallel world. The absence of excessive slash and gore is refreshing. The pulsing, contemporary soundtrack contrastingly also includes an excerpt from the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in a scene with Machlis.
It’s a strangely satisfying film, the colour and the black and white of it, and it will continue to disturb your senses long after watching. It serves to ingrain the warning to never speak to strangers – or are they strangers? – and to not trust what you see before you, whether your eyes are open or closed in an altered state. And, oh, if you step close to a line that could separate you into two worlds, stare at it first for the longest time. Be sure before taking that step over – the crossover – or you may find yourself standing before that literary line from Dante’s 1814 Divine Comedy -“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
Sometimes it’s best to heed the old adage “curiosity killed the cat.” Yes, move back, slip away posthaste from those dark places you want to, but really shouldn’t, discover within yourself. Parallel’s Pandora’s box will unleash things if opened – and you should never, ever dare peek inside the box long enough to want to step inside.
Parallel (2016) available online to view/purchase:
Interview – with Alexander Cooper, executive producer-actor of Parallel (2016)
How did you become involved as executive producer, also wearing a number of different hats on Parallel?
I wanted to make a film, so I set about looking for a script. I put an advert on the website “StarNow” in early 2015. Shortly afterwards I met the writer of Parallel, David Magowan from Glasgow, as he had responded to my listing. I read his script and it struck a chord with me. I knew very quickly I wanted to make the film. Having no contacts in the film or film finance industries, we presented the concept to investors in London to raise funds. Having failed to find a backer, so it was up to me to get the film made. I attempted a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. It raised a few hundred pounds, but no where near the eventual 15000 GBP it ended up costing. I wore so many different hats because there were so many things that needed doing and I couldn’t afford the staff.
What do you feel makes Parallel special and different from other doppelganger-type movies?
I think that Parallel is genuinely sexy and thrilling. On another note, others have said that it is a universally thought provoking film which makes the audience think and ask questions about their own lives.
Did you know of David Magowan’s work before he responded to your StarNow ad?
I had no idea about David’s other work before he showed me the script of Parallel.
Briefly describe your working relationships with cast and crew. Were there any especially heavy or light moments on set/on location while filming?
I won’t go into details of specific names of crew members; but I will say that the shoot itself was fraught, and felt at times as if we were shooting in the Parallel itself. The day we filmed the scene where Rhianna’s thugs beat Neil in the warehouse was especially heavy. In fact, the same day we were due to shoot an orgy scene and the crew broke up the shoot. A few days later they asked forgiveness and requested that I finish the shoot with them. I did, and that was fine in the end, but with various problems including crew members holding my intellectual property hostage, let’s just say I had made some mistakes in the crew hiring process. I had no such problems with the cast thankfully.
How did you come to choose Ieva Makselyte as a first-time full-fledged director? She achieved a very cohesive film and natural performances from the cast. Was she “attached” or the actual director?
That was quite random. I put out a listing on a website – I believe it was Film & TV pro. She came forward and seemed to fit the bill. Looking back, it would have been easier if I had just directed the film myself; at times indeed I had to intervene to get what we were looking for with shot choice and so on. That was my mistake, and so with my film Sandow (2018) I took on the director mantle and all creative responsibility. I was much happier and got much more respect on the Sandow set. Ultimately Ieva was credited as director. I wish her all the best with whatever she decides to do in life.
Many cast members are also on the crew. Was this in the plan from the get-go, or did that evolve?
Various crew members were involved as extras, this was helpful to save some time and money.
What are you working on now?
I’m just waiting for the final sound editing on my official directorial debut, Sandow. It’s a sports drama inspired by early strongmen and the founder of bodybuilding. I directed it, and as written on the IMDb, it’s “a hugely ambitious feature film project inspired by first British Olympic gold medallist Launceston Elliot and his trainer, legendary circus strongman and founder of bodybuilding Eugen Sandow.” I play Launceston.
One day I’d like to make a film I’d call “The Decision,” about an army officer who’s tormented by a female voice and a fateful decision he made. As of yet, I have no dates fixed for this production, and I’m considering making it in the “$3 film style” to shoot it like a stage play.