+ 1 (Plus One)
Directed by Dennis Iliadis
Screenplay by Bill Gullo; Story by Dennis Iliadis
Starring Rhys Wakefield, Logan Miller, and Ashley Hinshaw
Release Date: September 20, 2013
Running Time: 92 minutes
+ 1 (Plus One), the latest film from Greek director Dennis Iliadis (Hardcore), bases its plot around a pair of interesting questions: 1.) If you were given the chance to go back in time and rectify a terrible mistake, would you do so even though the previous outcome was the one meant to happen?; and 2.) How would you react to suddenly being confronted by a clone of yourself that has all of your memories but only up to a certain point in their life?
The first quandary is posed to David (Rhys Wakefield, The Purge), an aimless high school graduate whose college student girlfriend Jill (Ashley Hinshaw, Chronicle) feels that their relationship is going nowhere fast and David’s lack of future prospects is holding her back. These emotions are crystallized one afternoon when David mistakenly approaches Melanie (Natalie Hall, Pretty Little Liars) in the halls of the university believing at first that she’s Jill because the two of them look very much alike, but doesn’t reject Natalie when she kisses him in full view of the heartbroken Jill. With their romance in a free fall David and his friend Teddy (Logan Miller, Ultimate Spider-Man) decide to attend a massive blow-out being held at the home of local rich kid Angad (Rohan Kymel) that promises all manners of debauchery. Knowing that Jill will be at the party as well gives David the belief that he can still repair the damage he inflicted.
The second quandary arises when a mysterious electrical phenomenon triggered by a strange object from space crashing to Earth begins that same evening. During the party David, Teddy, their shy and insecure friend Alison (Suzanne Dengel, The Devil Wears Prada), and Melanie (who just gave Teddy the night of his young life) experience waves of disorienting hallucinations. Once they come to, they notice clones of themselves walking around the party; even weirder, the clones are reliving moments in their lives that the originals have already lived. Every time there is a power outage, when the electricity returns the clones have inched a bit closer in time to where their originals were when this continuum calamity began, and each partygoer now has a duplicates. Once David and the others figure out what exactly is going on, they must warn the others without causing a panic, while David takes the opportunity to redo his botched attempt at an apology to Jill in the hope he can salvage the love they once shared.
There’s more to the plot than that, but I prefer to not spoil anything else. Best known here in the U.S. for his previous film, the 2009 remake of Wes Craven’s dark horror classic The Last House on the Left (which was pretty good), Dennis Iliadis’ + 1 is the latest feature released this year in which a night of drunken revelry gives way to spectacular apocalyptic chaos. But unlike This is the End and The World’s End, the unusual event at the center of + 1‘s story is much more intimate and smaller in scale, not to mention nowhere near as hilarious. The phenomenon from the starts that kicks the plot into gear is never accurately explained outside of what the characters can deduce for themselves; there are no scientists or astronomical experts on hand to provide the audience and their on-screen surrogates the comforting exposition that could better help them deal with the situation beyond their meager comprehension.
We also don’t know how the event has affected the rest of the world because the story never leaves the party. At no point does the action cut to news reports or Internet social media feeds futilely attempting to make sense of the strange occurrence. Iliadis and screenwriter Bill Gullo (working from a story by the director) know that they lack the budget and resources necessary to weave a grander narrative, so they wisely make + 1 a self-contained film that focuses on how their main characters deal with the phenomenon and how they use it to their advantage. Many of us have moments in our lives that we wish could have had much different outcomes. David sees the unexplained event as the chance he desires to win back the heart of his girlfriend Jill, but not once does he understand that maybe their break-up was meant to happen so it could motivate them both to want more out of life.
The final moments of + 1 are meant to be optimistic for our youthful lovers. Yet from a clearer standpoint one could also surmise that their relationship will one day resume its original course no matter what may temporarily keep it from doing so, and given the often disturbing lengths David goes through to fix things with Jill the ending definitely leaves you fearing the worst.
For its first two acts, + 1 makes the most of its budgetary limitations (the sparse but competent visual effects were coordinated by David Fletcher) and builds up excellent tension as David and his friends try to prevent the party from descending into chaos and savage violence, even though that’s where things seem to be heading. I was hoping Iliadis and Gullo would craft a more challenging and audacious conclusion to their film. With that in mind, I should really stop putting so much stock in hope. The seeds were planted for an ending that would truly dazzle the intellect. Instead, what we are left with is another outbreak of bloodletting and brutality. Far be from me to condemn the use of violence in cinema, but is this really the only logical finale the filmmakers could come up with? It just seems to me that a daring storyteller would not shy from approaching the material with an open mind and a willingness to explore the many fascinating aspects of the plot. The production may have been limited on funding, but nothing can limit the imagination (unless there wasn’t much imagination to work with in the first place).
The acting is mostly solid. Rhys Wakefield makes for a capable male lead whose behavior throughout the movie reveals some interesting layers to his character’s personality, but Ashley Hinshaw doesn’t get much to do as Jill once the party starts except become verbally cruel and even nasty towards David. To be fair, the idiot kinda deserves the treatment. Logan Miller is an amusing trip as the best friend and reluctant sidekick to Wakefield; always quick with a witty put-down and increasingly concerned about preventing the other guests at the party from coming to any harm, Teddy is the true hero of the story. He even gets to have some mind-blowing sex before the trouble starts.
Speaking of the sex, Natalie Hall spends a good chunk of the second act in various states of undress (all photographed stunningly by cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who also shot last year’s brilliant drama The Master for Paul Thomas Anderson as well as serving as the D.P. on Francis Ford Coppola’s last three features), but when she’s not in the nude and rutting with Miller’s character, she makes the most of the vaguely-defined role she was given. I found the most sympathy in Suzanne Dengel’s haunted social outcast Alison, and the scenes she shares with her clone are the most dramatically compelling thanks to the actress working opposite her own identical twin sister Colleen. The moment of touching intimacy they share leads to the sweetest outcome for any character in + 1.
Nathan Larson, who previously composed music for films like High Art and Velvet Goldmine with his band Shudder to Think and Our Idiot Brother and Margin Call as a solo artist, contributes to + 1 an evocative and melodic music score that reminded me at times of the early 1980s film work of Howard Shore and Pino Donaggio. The cinematography by the aforementioned Malaimare gets progressively darker as the story moves towards its intense conclusion and brings every sparkling detail of the epic party into vibrant being.
Despite its flaws, + 1 is an original and often unpredictable film with much to offer its audience if they are willing to really give its layered, nuanced narrative some actual thought.