A Sci-Fi Honey Review by Katie

Parallels (2015)

Every now and then, the masterminds behind Netflix will recommend a film recently added to their streaming database that they think you would enjoy; sometimes they are way off-base, and sometimes they are just what you need at that exact moment in your life. The latter occurrence happened to me this week, when I was clicking through the byzantine VOD universe to discover where I could partake in my next sci-fi adventure. Enter Christopher Leone’s 2015 film Parallels, which Netflix teased as a “sci-fi adventure following a small band of people journeying across multiple parallel earths to help a scattered family reunite.” Sci-fi adventure, you say? It was just what I wanted, so I pressed play and settled back into my seat, hoping to be taken somewhere both wondrous and new. Little did I know, this was not the adventure I was expecting.

Netflix sums up the plot of Parallels pretty succinctly in that single sentence, but there is much more to the film than meets the eye. Beatrix and Ronan (Jessica Rothe and Mark Hapka) are a pair of adult siblings who each receive a mysterious voicemail from their father asking to meet them inside a building at a specific address. Worried about his mental stability in the wake of their mother’s death, the two set out on a quest to find him, along with their hapless neighbor Harry in tow (played by Eric Jungmann, who is alternatingly creepy, funny, and obnoxious). Upon arrival at the seemingly abandoned building, they discover graffiti-littered walls that warn of various catastrophic events occurring in various ‘versions’ of Earth. Their subsequent confusion is only amplified when the building, through some cosmic device, transports them to one of these alternate realities. It is in this world that they meet Polly (Constance Wu), a smart-mouthed time-jumper who explains that there are an infinite number of Earths existing around us at all times – and this building is the one vessel that can bring them there, exactly every 36 hours, for as long as they have left. The four band together on a quest to uncover the truth behind the building’s existence and find their way back to the version of Earth that they call home. 

Not THIS Earth. Let's go to the next one.
Here’s the problem: during the course of the film I noticed that a majority of the runtime time had been spent on backstory and often-clunky expository dialogue, especially between the siblings – “you know dad hasn’t been the same since mom died” – designed to enlighten the audience, but making no sense if these conversations occurred in the real world. The film also introduces various forms of technology, side characters, and hinted-at subplots that are never fully fleshed out. Before the film reaches the end of its truncated 83-minute runtime, we’ve experienced only a glimpse of three different versions of Earth, the death of some characters, the resurrection of others, and the revelation that one character is possibly a clone. Not a single plot thread is resolved, and even more are introduced, right before the screen cuts to black. What gives, movie?

So many questions!
Through the power of Google, I figured out what went wrong here – and everything makes more sense than it did before. If the film were intended as a pilot for a TV series, Parallels could be the next Sliders, also focusing on a group of ragtag characters crisscrossing parallel dimensions in search of their home. Converted into a feature-length film by Fox Digital Studios, the film made its debut on Netflix earlier this month as a standalone effort, much to the confusion of viewers (like myself) who look for some kind of closure and resolution to certain aspects of a story before the credits roll. As a pilot, the film makes more sense and has many opportunities for growth, from imagining the various worlds our lead characters could encounter to exploring the romantic and familial relationships within. Through exposure on Netflix, the film might be able to pick up steam and get a financing deal through the Fox network, SyFy, or even Netflix itself, to carry on the many intriguing ideas raised in this pilot/movie through an expanded serial format, either as a regular TV show or a miniseries. Sci-fi fans are a dedicated bunch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if social media buzz surrounding this intriguing premise can’t get it picked up for more episodes somewhere.

Maybe it will air in a parallel dimension.
The only real fault in this piece of work – film, TV pilot, whatever you want to call it – is that all involved appear to be still finding their footing, most of all the writers. This is the case with many TV pilots, where storytelling methods are eventually abandoned, characters are re-cast, and it takes a few episodes for all involved to find their groove. Constance Wu’s character is one of the best aspects of Parallels, but she’s recently found success over at ABC in the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat – so her role, at the very least, could need some retooling if this show were to become a recurring phenomenon. For now, Netflix has granted all who have access a tease at the TV show that could be, if Parallels garners enough attention to merit a continuation – and for all the potential this first entry holds, this Sci-Fi Honey would be very interested in see where the story takes us next.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Three out of five… as in, give us three to five more episodes of this so I can judge it better.