Alrik Bursell’s The Alternate is an incredibly tight low-budget science-fiction thriller with a psychological horror edge. It asks, and answers, the age-old question: Is there a better version of you out there? What would that look like? Who would you be if you got everything you had ever wanted in life?
Jake (Ed Gonzalez Moreno) is a constantly frustrated filmmaker who can’t seem to get his projects off the ground. His wife, Kris (Natalia Dominguez), is a working woman whose patience with her husband is wearing thin. He’s always in the basement or on a shoot or spending their money on his flailing dreams. But Jake is determined to make his film and whatever millions might wait for him on the other side of stardom … even if it means telling Kris to put their familial ambitions on hold just a little longer … a little longer … a little longer.
One night while editing some footage for a contract job, Jake accidentally stumbles into an eldritch portal to another universe — one in which Jake is a successful filmmaker with a loving wife (also Kris) and a beautiful daughter. He’s always away on work but his home life seems stable. It’s everything Jake has ever wanted, without having to work for it. How far will he go to steal his other life?
There are twists and turns in The Alternate that are actually hard to predict, which is a mark of quality in a genre and plot told time and again throughout science-fiction history. Everything is held together by Moreno and Dominguez, pulling double duty as different versions of their characters in vastly different versions of reality. What both versions of Jake and Kris want out of their partners helps the situation spiral out of control. Thankfully, Kris is never a set-upon wife, and her importance, and choices, are equal to Jake’s.
There’s nothing quite like a thriller that plays its premise to the fullest. The Alternate has its minor flaws — some weird ADR and low-budget special effects — but none of that really matters when a story is told with such clean, creative and professional vision.
The Alternate is available as part of the Heartland Film Festival’s online offerings from Oct. 7 to Oct. 17.
An in-person screening will be held at 7 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 10, at Newfields.