Is it cheating if it is with your spouse from an alternate timeline? That is one of the fun, fundamental questions posited by writer/director Alrik Bursell’s The Alternate. The sci-fi thriller flexes its muscle in its storytelling simplicity rather than piling on the special effects.
Jake (Ed Gonzalez Moreno) is a corporate videographer-for-hire, but the soul-sucking work is clouding the dreams of his feature-film passion project. It has led to a life of hamster-wheel-spinning monotony and puts a strain on his relationship with his long-suffering wife, Kris (Natalia Dominguez). While she dutifully picks up extra shifts, her patience for Jake’s stasis is wearing thin, as Kris envisions growth beyond the ritual of her husband retreating nightly to his basement office/hideaway to futz around with his project.
One particular evening, Jake notices a tiny glitch in the frame. Upon closer inspection, this small “burn-in” has a far more hypnotizing aura, and, as the whole room is aglow in a magnified, moving light, he realizes that it is actually a portal. After curiously stepping in, Jake realizes the other side is the life he’s yet to attain: one in which he is a successful film director, Kris is a happy, successful supporter, and the two share their home with a beautiful young daughter.
“Is it cheating if it is with your spouse from an alternate timeline?”
Like finding an unclaimed lottery ticket, the chance to experience the perks of a well-lived life is too good for Jake to pass up. Plus, it is technically his life, so who can blame him for wanting to take a taste? But, as with all effective thrillers, The Alternate shows that one taste is never enough.
Bursell has crafted a streamlined sci-fi romp that never boxes above its weight while telling a relatable premise. The filmmaker allows moments of levity to poke through his concise tale. For example, in one particular scene, Jake takes Kris through the portal to show her their “other” life when they hear a creaking in the house. “S**t, they’re home!” he whispers. “Who’s home?” Kris replies. “We are!” he deadpans. Additionally, the film boasts some truly impressive camerawork, filled with reflections, refractions, and some cool visual effects when things go wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey.
Much of The Alternate is anchored by engaging dual performances from its leads. Moreno and Dominguez must craft two versions of the same character, including scenes in which they “confront” their alternative selves. Both are solid and convincing, keeping the audience invested in the outcome of it all.
We can all identify with motivational issues throughout these past couple of years, so the core premise of The Alternate — of being able to leap into a life of luxury — is a tempting one. Bursell explores it with clarity, creativity, and a little comedy. It’s an efficient time-skipping tale that finds a fresh spin on familiarity.
"…an efficient time-skipping tale that finds a fresh spin on familiarity."