Be Careful What You Wish For
The popularity of movies involving parallel dimensions has skyrocketed in the last few years, evident in films such as Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Spider-Man: No Way Home, as well as Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All At Once and upcoming Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. The Alternate inserts itself into this pressing line of dialogue, presenting yet another view of a concept audiences seem to be obsessed with.
Jake Del Rio (Ed Gonzalez Moreno) is a struggling filmmaker, doing freelancing gigs he dislikes in order to fund the film he is in the middle of, titled Space Drive. While trying to balance that, he must also appease his disapproving wife, Kris (Natalia Dominguez), whose job selling glasses has been the main funding for his side-projects. When Jake discovers an odd spot in one of his videos, he enlarges it to reveal a portal leading to an alternate dimension – one where his movie was successful, kickstarting a filmmaking career. Kris has fulfilled her dream of designing and creating her own line of glasses, and they have a daughter, named Julie. It’s the life he always wanted for himself.
Characters and Creativity
Jake is by no means a likable character, a trait which only gets worse as the film progresses. His relationship with Kris in both dimensions is strained at best, his narcissistic nature overriding any sort of communication the couple could have. He is so involved with his work that he takes Kris’s support for granted, leading to numerous fights.
That being said, the struggle he faces within his creative endeavors is all too relatable for anyone in the business. Limited budgets, looming deadlines, and an uninterested public make Space Drive a Sisyphean struggle that appears hopeless. It’s an incredibly competitive field, and no matter what Jake tries to do, he never seems to get the recognition he needs to succeed. Of course, the Facebook status updates of everyone else’s indie films being fully funded and beginning production serves to rub salt in the wound, dragging Jake into the pit of self-deprecation. It is little wonder that a portal leading to his ideal life would morph into an obsession for him.
The film itself is absolutely gorgeous – a running motif of reflections and doubleness provide the opportunity for some extraordinary shots in pool reflections, windows, and mirrors. The world of the portal is swathed in contrasting shades of blue and golden yellow, creating a stylized and stunning color palette that heightens its fantastical nature.
The sound design is also stellar – from the opening shots of the film, the music serves to create an eerie tone that immediately alerts audiences that something is already brewing. The hints of wrongness emphasized by the music choices make the events of the movie feel as though they’re dictated by destiny. There was already a seed of disaster present even before Jake and his fellow crew-members noticed the little glitch during their filming session – there is an undercurrent of inevitability as Jake spirals into obsession.
Worldbuilding and the Portal
The sci-fi element of the portal raises plenty of questions about its mechanics and its origins. The film shows Jake’s discovery of a mysterious spot during one of his shoots, but it doesn’t explain how it got there or how it was created. There is also a scene where the computer being used to access the portal is somewhere other than Jake’s house. When alternate-Jake looks through to the other side, he appears in some sort of kitchen, startling the cooks as he attempts to steal an onion. The portal, then, must be sensitive to location rather than its user, indicating that it was a stroke of luck that alternate-Jake ended up in the same house Jake lives in.
When Jake calls a group of scientists to talk about the portal, they give him an email to send his information to. When one of the scientists asks who was calling, the woman tells him it was just another call about a portal. Is the audience meant to extrapolate that there are other portals in existence? It seems as though they were just brushed aside, if Jake’s interaction with the scientists and their comments afterwards are any indication. What other incidents may be happening all over the world because of these portals? Or is the scientist’s comment just a snide joke making fun of Jake?
Parallel Universes and Their Themes
Some of the most prominent topics explored during the film are desire and obsession. Jake longs for a better life than the one he holds, chasing after his dreams with little care for those helping him do so. When he finds that there is a way to experience the life he desires, he can’t help but visit. Each journey through the portal emboldens him, and he begins to stay for longer periods of time, swimming in their pool and eventually having sex with the alternate version of his wife. Of course, this boldness gets him into trouble on his side of the portal, particularly with Kris, and the life he actually leads begins to crumble even further. The portal is like a drug to him – once he starts, he can never stop. Much like Dorian Gray, his obsession leads to madness, and then to a tragic downfall.
From the minute Jake steps through the portal, audiences can guess at its sinister uses. Jake ties a cable around his waist when he decides to go through for the first time. As soon as he lands on the other side, the cable snips in half, leaving him stranded and untethered. His connection to his old life is gone, and despite his desires, his “new” life has no room for him. Rather than attempting to change his own life to reflect the one he wants, he wastes his time trying to fit into a world that doesn’t belong to him.
Based on the ending, it seems like the portal presents a cycle, sucking in all the people unhappy with their lives and twisting them into monsters. It feels almost like the cycle of addiction or obsession – it is hard to break without a support system (or without a will to do so). Perhaps it is a message about how dangerous escapism is, as well – Jake uses the portal to escape to a better life, leaving his actual one to decay. In the same way, if we get too wrapped up in fantasies about a better world, we’ll never find ways to change our own.
Multiverse movies have been rising in popularity in recent years, presenting the question of why. Perhaps they are meant to be an escape, a dream of what could be to distract us from what is. Perhaps they are meant to spur us into action to change the world around us. The Alternate seems to warn of the consequences of letting such fantasies consume us – if we go too deep, we might end up just as twisted as Jake becomes.
The Alternate can be rented on YouTube, Apple TV, or Google Play.
|Cailen Fienemann is a current student at Le Moyne College pursuing her BA in English and Communications with a film studies minor and a creative writing concentration. Though uncertain about her career end-goals, any job that allows her to write is a cherished one indeed.|