Daydreaming is a basic exercise of the human mind. We let our imagination go with the flow and give us fantastic visions of places where we want to be or visions of our better selves. It is hard to daydream. It can be quite entertaining but also quite annoying, almost depressive. To have one version of yourself who has achieved each of your dreams and then come back to the real world and see you have none of that can be heartbreaking. This is a review of The Alternate, a movie that deals with this subject and takes it to its ultimate consequences.
The Alternate is written and directed by Alrik Bursell and stars Ed Gonzalez Moreno, Natalia Dominguez, and Johnny Gilligan. The film tells the story of Jake, a frustrated filmmaker who spends his time working on corporate videos and procrastinating on his feature film. His wife, Kris, supports him, but Jake’s laziness is becoming a problem. One day, while working on his film, Jake finds himself with a portal that sends him to another dimension, where he comes face to face with his idealized version of himself.
The Alternate is a high-concept film in the best way possible. By just introducing the portal element, Bursell opens up the possibilities of his film, and the result is quite entertaining. For a low-budget effort, The Alternate is a very enjoyable film. Bursell proves that you can do a lot with very little and that a good story will always prevail in the face of visual spectacle. Bursell knows the limitations of his toolkit and works within them.
The film is very short, but its length feels just right for the type of movie, and the story the movie is trying to tell. Expectations vs. reality. It is a subject as old as time, and it becomes incredibly relatable. As we see Jake making excuses for himself, or when we see that his preoccupations are not completely understood by those he cares about. It becomes a very real situation that many people around the world go through every day. By adding that good dose of reality, when the movie introduces a multidimensional portal, the film feels grounded.
The cast does a good job as well. Moreno is a solid protagonist. He has to play different versions of the same character, and while his performance can feel wooden sometimes, it goes very well with the character. Jake might be relatable, but he isn’t particularly interesting; he is just a normal person like everyone else.
Dominguez has a lot more to work with. Her different versions of Kris feel way more tangible; you can really feel that these two people are the same person at very different moments in their lives. She goes from being happy, to frustrated, angry, and sweet in an instant, and it does not feel forced at all. Great performance.
Visually, the movie falls a bit flat. The visuals are very dull. This helps with the hopeless feeling of frustration around Jake, but at the same time, it is not very appealing to the eye. Nevertheless, the film’s direction is quite solid, and the pacing is also very good. The only slip comes towards the middle when the movie feels like it is repositioning itself to go in a different direction. The transition between the first and second half of the film does not feel as smooth as it could be.
The second part of the film is definitely a bit strange and goes into the usual shenanigans that come when you mess with the space-time continuum, but the movie never feels cliché or repetitive. Maybe the reason for that is that, unlike other films that tackle the same subject, here the stakes are very personal. It is all about the relationship between Jake and Kris, in both dimensions, and because of that, the film feels like it is more focused and knows exactly what it is doing.
The visual effects are a bit poor here and there, but they are used sparingly The movie doesn’t need big visual effects, though. So for any VFX connoisseurs, it might be easier to forgive The Alternate slips in this department. The camera work is also quite solid. There is nothing really flashy, but there are some lingering shots that really work in creating a mood, especially during the most intense scenes.
The music is also a standout element. The score has this science fiction, spacey vibe that really fits with what is going on in the story. Many feels in this budget range have a hard time making the movie fit the tone and flavor of the film, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem here.
The Alternate is a highly entertaining science fiction film that takes a fantastic element and uses it to tell a very personal story. One that many people watching the film will probably confess to having experienced at least once in their lives. The cast is very solid, and while the pacing slips a bit towards the middle, the final section of the film balances things out to properly end the story.