New Releases: Parallax (2020) - Reviewed

Naomi lives in a world that is wrong. She does not recognize her fiancée. She occasionally gets flashes of memory, but they seem to belong to someone else. Is what is happening to her purely psychological? Or is something bigger going on?

That is the premise of Parallax, an intriguing, very slow-paced, drama. Much like its confused main character, it starts out cold and distant, building toward some kind of connection. It contains a mystery requiring a lot of patience from viewers. While the setup is quite interesting, the eventual answers are unsatisfying. There are too many questions lingering at the end. Regardless, it is a good-looking movie, with a strong, consistent, vision and an effective lead performance. The positives are definitely able to outweigh the negatives, even if it does not completely reward its audience’s patience.

Parallax opens with the monotone voice of an artist named Naomi, explaining the emptiness of her daily existence. She does not know who she is or where she is, yet it does not make her angry or scared. She feels nothing. It cannot be easy portraying someone this detached. There is a major risk in coming off as emotionless, dull; an actor could alienate viewers by keeping them at arm’s length. Star Naomi Prentice avoids that trap, crafting an oddly sympathetic character who has gotten uncomfortably used to not knowing what is going on. 

It is hard to describe Naomi, since I am unsure we ever really get to know her. Her most important characteristic is her ability to transport herself when she paints. Literally. Her art calls to her, taking control of her during the creative process, then bringing her inside of whatever she has painted. She seems more alive there, like the unexplainable makes more sense than the reality she is convinced is not hers. Prentice keeps Naomi more compelling than frustrating. Perhaps it is because of the constant impression she gives that she is always trying to understand. It makes her detachment relatable, instead of off-putting.

She is aided by writer/director/producer Michael Bachochin who clearly knows exactly what he wants his story to be and what he wants it to look like. He has designed something dreamlike, keeping the enigmatic Naomi as his focus as he explores the world she finds herself in. Everything is bright and clean, from the beach to the desert to the white interior of Naomi and her fiancée’s house. The darkest moments take place in her dreams, where she is submerged in the ocean, unable to get out. Though Bachochin returns to these images over and over, Parallax does not seem repetitive. There appears to be a method to his madness. And then, well, maybe not.

Honestly, I am usually far more annoyed by movies that hold things back before eventually revealing way too little. However, that did not bother me much here. Each individual step was built like a puzzle where the pieces are scattered all over, so it was not a problem that it was emotionally and, in part, narratively, disconnected. Until the end, when the narrative still had not totally come together. For the first hour and a half or so, the mystery, style and Prentice’s performance are enjoyable enough to make up for the lack of a true direction. Sometimes, the journey is worthwhile, even if the destination ultimately is not. That is absolutely the case with Parallax.

—Ben Pivoz