Reviewed by Thyronne Millaud: Michael Bachochin, gives us a film that draws us into the lead character’s questionable grasp on reality and succeeds in making us feel her confusion and frustration of living a life with no memories or discernible purpose.
Starring Naomi Prentice, Nelson Ritthaler, Hattie Smith, and Ted Gianopulos, Parallax is a science-fiction/psychological thriller that’s ultimately light on both science fiction and thrills.
The movie tells the story of a young artist, Naomi ( Naomi Prentice) who lives with her fiancee, Lucas (Nelson Ritthaler) existing in a life in which she has no memories in a house with a locked door and a fig tree in the back yard. She mopes around all day while tuning out Lucas when he tries to make small talk. He implores her to do something to pass the time and make her days more fulfilling. He even tells her she should start painting again. In voice over, Natalie tells us how confused and frustrated she is while we watch her drag herself through her empty day. At one point, near the beginning, she says “I am fear. I am panic. I am delusion.”, I took this as a bit of foreshadowing of interesting things to come. Unfortunately, they don’t. About an hour in, which is only halfway through the movie, Naomi says, “I think there’s something wrong with me.” Ya think? We sit through an endless spiral of her moping around the house, and Lucas trying to connect and comfort her. We learn he’s not going to work, but rather seeing a shrink Dr. Hill (Ted Gianopulos) trying to figure out what’s wrong with her. He even goes through a box of her belongings, finds the number of her grandmother who supposedly raised her, and brings her to visit Naomi who is unmoved and later says she has no memories of that woman.
Naomi begins to paint seascapes and desert scenes. When she touches the canvas she is transported to these places wandering around in negligees and finds clues about what may be her past, or is it an alternate reality? Eventually, while she’s tripping around Joshua Tree she encounters Mikayla (Hattie Smith) whom she recognizes from some photographs she had just found in a box. Instead of bringing answers, Mikayla’s appearance only makes things more complicated and confusing. Then there’s the scene of her sinking into a black underwater abyss that keeps reappearing throughout the entirety.
During the second half of the film. She beaks into the locked room in the house which seems to be hiding some sort of scientific/psychological experiment that she and Lucas were conducting on her. From there, I can’t tell you what happened. The movie ended and I was left saying what happened? Thinking I had fallen asleep and missed something I went back and watched the second half again. No. I recalled all the scenes. Apparently, I had just disengaged. What I had anticipated coming after the tease of “I am fear, I am panic. I am delusion.”, had, ultimately become me saying out loud “I am bored.”
Parallax is a high concept film about the truths of identity and reality and how they can be manipulated and perceived. The structure of the film is like an onion being peeled apart layer by layer. There’s a lot of repetitive visuals and getting into Naomi’s head. It’s a slow-paced movie that clocks in at just under two hours which seems at the very least, a half-hour too long. Clues and plot points that should propel the momentum of the story are doled out in small miserly morsels. It’s obvious the filmmaker had something he wanted to say but the result is a film that rather than entertains us gives us a conversation piece. It’s the kind of film you can look back on and discuss with others who made it through intact.
Where the film does work extremely well is setting a mood and making the audience feel the confusion and disengagement that Naomi is feeling. This is done not only through the low energy performances from the main actors, the narration, and the repetitive visuals but most notably through the visual choices, the director makes. The look of the film is very subdued and almost gritty. A lot of dark rooms and shadows, the black underwater visuals, and even the bright beach and desserts appear subdued and less intense than they should be. But what really stands out is the framing of many shots. At times the rule of thirds, even sixths, is pushed to the edge of comfort. In many scenes, the character will be crammed at the edge of the frame looking off in an unexpected direction. There are times when a head will be framed at the very bottom or in the corner. This is not just used here and there to force a mood in a scene or two but is the actual signature or style of the entire film. I found this interesting, though it did seem to get tiring as the movie wore out it’s welcome.
All in all, I think the director has shown himself in possession of a definite voice and vision and a willingness to experiment and try things that may or may not work, and will probably have a lot more to say in the future. I’m looking forward to what may come next.