The Alternate Review: The Multiverse Gets A Compelling, Stripped-Down Look

Between recent movies like the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Everything Everywhere All At Once, the concept of alternate realities is having a bit of a moment right now. This is true even in independent film, as Alrik Bursell's The Alternate takes on a stripped-down approach to discovering the existence of new realities. Bursell, who also wrote the script, plays with some interesting ideas that still feel compelling even among the current onslaught of multiverse-related projects. Though The Alternate could've been better served by a deeper exploration of its themes and characters, it offers a unique take on a familiar idea.

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Filmmaker Jake (Ed Gonzalez Moreno) is passing time working on unfulfilling projects when he stumbles upon a shocking discovery. What first appeared to be a glitch involving his equipment actually turns out to be a portal to an alternate reality, one where his dream project has boosted his career and his wife (Natalia Dominguez) doesn't seem to resent him so much. Fascinated by this portrait of a better life, Jake spends more and more time in this other world, to the point where mere curiosity becomes dangerous obsession.

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Natalia Dominguez and Ed Gonzalez Moreno in The Alternate
Natalia Dominguez and Ed Gonzalez Moreno in The Alternate

Coming in at just under an hour and a half, The Alternate doesn't waste much time. The first glimpse of the otherworldly portal (which looks suitably eerie and inviting) comes within the film's opening minutes, taking Jake's attention away from an interview he's shooting with frequent collaborator Peter (Johnny Gilligan). After messing around with it on his own computer and stumbling upon its true purpose by idly throwing a football at it, Jake swiftly becomes consumed with the idea of the portal and what it offers. His wife Kris is less impressed with this discovery, instead bemoaning the fact that it now occupies his attention. There are two versions of Kris represented in The Alternate, and neither of them are properly fleshed out. The main Kris, in particular, is often relegated to complaining about her job and Jake. Dominguez is able to find shades of humanity in her character, even if she isn't given much to really cut her teeth on.

Jake's growing obsession with his alternate self's life is compelling, and Bursell effectively mines the unease that comes from the main Jake seeping more and more into this world that isn't his. Bursell's best moment comes when the alternate Jake catches a glimpse of the prime Jake out the window; the shock of that moment gives The Alternate a genuinely suspenseful beat. The slight downside to Jake's constant jaunts into the portal is that there isn't much time spent examining his mental deterioration. Jake very clearly is infatuated with the idea of a life where he is successful and worshipped, but the speed at which he goes from merely tiptoeing in to completely integrating himself within his alternate self's life is quick. Had The Alternate taken some time to breathe, it could've elevated itself into a fascinating character study. As it stands, the ideas are there, and the viewer is left to do their own theorizing.

Ed Gonzalez Moreno in The Alternate 2
Ed Gonzalez Moreno in The Alternate

It's also hard to ignore the ease with which Jake sinks into "his" new life. One might've assumed it would be more difficult to just jump into a new reality, but The Alternate isn't too concerned with giving Jake many obstacles. As both versions of the central character, Moreno fares better as the prime Jake. He conveys Jake's wide-eyed desperation well, charting his evolving obsession with each gesture and glance. The alternate Jake doesn't get as much exploration, partially because much of the film is shown through the eyes of the original. However, aside from his circumstances, there doesn't seem to be much that differentiates them. The Alternate takes a compelling turn in the back half of its runtime, and there's genuine interest in seeing how it will pan out. Everything culminates with a surprisingly bloody end that seems put in more for shock value than anything else, though it should be mentioned that the twist was foreshadowed well beforehand.

The Alternate has a premise that suggests the arrival of fascinating new concepts for the multiverse genre. In the end, it only skims those concepts with its relatively slight story. Still, it is a story that is told well, with real stakes and intrigue. The deeper exploration would've only served to make The Alternate stronger, thus allowing for a bigger impact on its audience. For those who are looking for some alternate realities without the world-ending stakes of most narratives, this is a movie that can scratch that itch.

The Alternate releases on DVD and digital Tuesday, September 13. It is 87 minutes long and is not rated.

2022-09-12T12:42:40.000Z

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