Directed by Dennis Iliadis
One of the most wonderfully weird films of the Midnighter series at SXSW this year had to be Dennis Iliads’ earnest and ambitious Plus One, which uses a lavish and outrageous house party as the landscape for his spin on a modern sci-fi invasion story. It certainly has a lot on its mind but could use a bit of fine-tuning before it eventually gets nabbed for distribution.
At the beginning of Plus One we meet well-meaning David (Rhys Wakefield), who makes a surprise trip to visit his girlfriend Jill (Ashley Hinshaw) at college; and while the trip is meant to show his girlfriend how much he loves her, he ends up letting another girl kiss him (teenage boys, right?) while Jill looks on. As you’d expect, Jill is none too thrilled to see her boyfriend making out with someone else so she dumps him right before the biggest party of the year, forcing David to take his best friend Teddy (Logan Miller) while Jill takes another guy.
Plus One starts off a bit like American Pie meets Can’t Hardly Wait with the story set-up, but thankfully Iliadis and company quickly move beyond that as things soon evolve into something more along the lines of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with hints of Disturbing Behavior thrown in for good measure when a small meteorite crashes nearby and disrupts the natural order by dropping in clones of everyone at the party that are replicating the events from the previous thirty minutes in the lives of the partiers.
Both groups unaware of each other’s existence at first, the clones begin to disappear and reappear with each appearance moving up their timeline to match the originals still partying it up oblivious to the clones’ arrival. It’s not necessarily clear as to just what will happen once the clones and those they’ve replicated catch up to each other in the space-time continuum, but one thing is for sure- it’s not going to be pretty.
So yeah, I’ve kept my synopsis for Plus One intentionally brief and elusive for two reasons: one, this is definitely a movie you want to go in knowing as little as possible about as that’s a big reason why I ended up enjoying it as much as I did- it just kept me surprised from start to finish. And two, there’s a heck of a lot going on in Plus One that any sort of typical plot synopsis approach feels like a disservice to all that Iliadis and writer Bill Gullo have packed into the movie- it’s best experienced with a blank slate and an open mind as you may find yourself as surprised by how much there was to like in Plus One even if the movie gets tripped up by its own ambition from time to time.
The short version is- there’s just a heck of a lot going on in Plus One, and while most of it may not make a whole lot of sense at first, once Iliadis reveals the hand he’s playing, so to speak, it turns out that what could have been another vapid teenage spin on classic sci-fi genre tropes ended up being one of the more bold and original films that screened at SXSW this year with a rather intriguing premise and visually striking approach making up for the film’s sometimes uneven tone and a convoluted conclusion.
Plus One isn’t going to be a film for everyone- and quite frankly I’m a bit surprised by how much I rather enjoyed it and just how much it has stuck with me over the last week. But that’s just the thing- what makes Plus One both likable and admirable is that Iliadis really tries his damnedest here, and his enthusiasm absolutely shows; the story is funny and awkwardly structured but admirably tries to give us a completely different spin on how society’s perception of things they cannot easily understand may turn out to be the biggest threat we as humans will ever face and explores the dangers of just how far we may go in order to get a second chance at love. It’s definitely some heady material wrapped up inside a fun teen party flick that offers up tons of nudity, drinking and some hilariously low-brow shenanigans.
And while it may be easy to dismiss Plus One at first glance as another teen horror romp that has nothing new to offer, just go into the film with an open mind, and you may be surprised by how much there really is going on for a flick that’s as raunchy as it is thoughtfully made. An ambitious follow-up to the rather decent Last House on the Left remake, Iliadis proves here that’s he’s unafraid to take some risks as a storyteller and at the very least try and make a compelling and surprising sci-fi horror flick even if he doesn’t necessarily bat a thousand with Plus One.
Love it or hate it, there’s one thing guaranteed- Plus One is anything but boring.
3 out of 5