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Salem Horror Fest 2021: Parallel Minds Falls Down a Rabbit Hole of Incoherence

I love science fiction horror. I’ll watch The Thing, Alien, or Event Horizon any day of the week without much convincing. I’ve even written deep dives on films like The Mandela Effect. Parallel Minds has been on my list to see for months ever since I first missed it while attending a different film festival. Written up as an artificial intelligence horror film, and given the nature of the technological environment we currently reside in, I was excited to see what creative chaos could come from writer/director Benjamin Ross Hayden’s story. Now a part of the Salem Horror Fest lineup, I made it one of my personal must-see titles after seeing the title make the rounds at multiple festivals over the past year. The chaos I was expecting was far different from what I got.  

Let me begin by saying I wanted to like Parallel Minds. Watching the film’s trailer gave me the vibe of something that science may actually be on the verge of: downloading memories. While a breakthrough like that may still be years off, while watching (and becoming obsessed with) last year’s Come True, I came upon a Popular Science article that suggested images from our dreams can be seen and translated by computers. Where that’s currently the case, memory scans may not be an unachievable idea, but what would that even entail?  

Elise and Margo speak in the lab in Parallel Minds

Entering the not-too-distant future with Parallel Minds, we open with a whirlwind of technology. Right away, we’re introduced to a memory recalling system named Red Eye. Red Eye is reliant on a blue serum that looks achingly close to Resident Evil’s T-Virus, and a new version in contact lens form is about to replace the current VR headset model and enter the public eye. A Steve Jobs wannabe named Conrad Stallman (Neil Napier) presents the technology at an Apple-type product launch. Suddenly, something unclear is wrong and upsetting the project’s founder, Elise (Michelle Thrush).

Meanwhile, an unknown woman breaks into an under-secured server room and places a device on some cords to siphon data from the corporation. We jump back to Elise, visibly shaken, giving lab assistant Margo (Tommie-Amber Pirie) her password before the film plays a back and forth with Margo and Elise. Margo dreams about a traumatizing past experience while the temperature rises inside her apartment. Elise tries to contact something through her computer, which causes an oily mass (reminiscent of Armus from Star Trek: The Next Generation) to bubble presumably somewhere around the lab shortly before something ghostly visits her. When Margo does awaken, she turns on the news to find Elise is dead.  

Exposition is an introduction, and while introductions can be chaotic, that rarely makes for a good first impression. After those first ten or so minutes I just described above, I had already audibly asked, “What the hell is going on?” Parallel Minds just doesn’t seem to have patience for any exposition, pitting us in the middle of an unraveling situation without realizing that the breakneck pace of its storytelling is giving the audience whiplash. It’s a great way to set up a mystery, but unfortunately, it’s even better at alienating its audience. Given the time constraints of the medium, the film feels pressured into being a feature presentation, undercooking its first act to move the story along when it seems like it would be better paced as episodic TV fare.  

Thomas Elliot raises his hands concerningly in Parallel Minds

Police detective Thomas Elliot (Greg Bryk) enters our narrative to clear up the muddy mess of the film’s first ten minutes and get us back on track. Instead, Elliot ends up bringing his own convoluted mess into Parallel Minds’ story. Suffering the post-traumatic guilt of killing an innocent kid during a police raid, Elliot is attacked by the boy’s father about five minutes into the case. Not only that, but his clothes appear to change while driving between crime scenes. It’s little inconsistencies like this in movies that completely crush my spirit. Where I wanted to like the film before, the movie’s lack of coherence made that impossible. I mean, I know it’s a low-budget film, and something like a wardrobe goof may feel like a nitpick, but continuity creates the world you’re watching and envelops you in the drama unfolding onscreen. Where these first twenty minutes were a bit incoherent already, the noticeable slipup was the last straw.  

There were plenty of other irksome traits the film managed to muster up as well. That unknown woman from earlier is revealed to be super-hacker Jade (Madison Walsh), who feels heavily inspired by a mix of The Matrix characters. And since the audience has already been exposed to the red pill/blue pill reference earlier with the Red Eye machine and the blue serum in the lab, that all filters back to Alice in Wonderland. Jade gives paranoid speeches that sound like something you’d find on your Trump-supporting aunt’s Facebook page, talking about fighting for freedom in a war no one knows is being waged. And when we finally get a look at the creature in Parallel Minds, we get what looks like a Tron-inspired mohawk on The Creature from the Black Lagoon that looks pretty good, albeit a little cheesy, like a 1950s space panic monster. But the real downer is that the fight scene that’s been building is wholly unsatisfying. Oh, and don’t get me started on the presence of Margo’s telekinesis.  

In a blurred background, Margo falls through the sky looking very worried about where she'll land in Parallel Minds

I did stick it out to the end of the film, hoping for a reprieve. The film’s saving graces notably are Mike Kasper’s beautiful production design and Alec Harrison’s ominous and ethereal music score. Greg Byrk, who I specifically recognize as Joseph Seed in the Far Cry 5 video game, is rather adaptive as the lead as well, but the acting overall here isn’t an issue. Parallel Minds crafts a particularly cool-looking music video, something I think Moby’s “Alice” could fit well to given all of the Alice in Wonderland references at the start. Parallel Minds suffers from the same problem Johnny Mnemonic suffered from in 1995. Though the idea is simple, the film’s structure becomes a convoluted mess where cohesiveness is traded for rambling. I think audiences are going to have a tough time deciphering the film. I know I did. Parallel Minds was certainly not what I was hoping for, though the idea is there. The film’s script is just not fleshed out to provide an enjoyable experience.  

Parallel Minds played as a part of Salem Horror Fest. The in-person festival is over now, but the film can be seen as part of the virtual festival running now through Halloween. Passes for the virtual festival can be purchased through the Salem Horror Fest website.    

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Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston and loves all things horror.

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