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
The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
The Good Friend Book Review – A Slasher Story for the Facebook Generation
Written by Marcus Sabom
I’m not usually a big fan of murder mysteries, but Marcus Sabom’s novel The Good Friend has certainly done a lot to make me reconsider my stance on the genre. Sabom, who is currently turning the book into a film, appears to have a real gift when it comes to keeping the reader on the edge of their seat
Usually, if you were told that a book contains an ensemble cast of four central characters instead of one main protagonist, you’d probably lose interest right away because we tend to connect with singular point of view characters more than we do with ensembles. However, Sabom proved me wrong in this regard, because each of the four leading women in The Good Friend were such engaging people with such real problems that I never felt like there were too many characters and plot threads to keep track of.
To give a brief overview of our four principal players, we have Sarah, who wants to be in a meaningful relationship after her asshole boyfriend dumps her, Alana, a slightly older woman stuck in a loveless marriage with a manipulative husband who tries to turn her kids against her, Megan, who has to deal with crazy stalkers, and Rita, who is traumatized by a vengeful psycho named Caleb after he attempts to belittle and humiliate her.
With this being a book set in modern times, they naturally use social media to broadcast their problems to the world. Now, we all know about the dangers of chronicling every step of our lives on social media, but Sabom takes things to a whole other level. Because after the aforementioned women post about their troubles on Faceplace (which is basically Facebook, but with a name Mark Zuckerberg can’t take legal action against), a masked killer begins to permanently put an end to their man problems. Whoever the knife-wielding psycho is, he’s clearly a mutual friend of all the women, because he obviously looks at their posts.
One of the only male characters in The Good Friend who wasn’t a complete asshole was Detective Jack Miller, a cop investigating the case of the misandrous serial killer. Miller is described as occasional leaning towards antinatalism, the belief that people should stop reproducing because the human race should not continue to exist. I’ve also always believed that human beings should stop reproducing because we are beyond saving, so I’m glad that Sabom was able to tap into an area that deserves far more open discussion rather than being a social taboo.
The book itself is just under three-hundred pages in length and uses relatively large text, so most readers will probably get through the whole thing in about three days. Whilst the prose was certainly easy to digest, there were a number of errors and typos that would be painfully obstructive to most of us, the most obvious being that it confuses the phrase ‘couldn’t care less’ with ‘could care less’, which, as you know, means the exact opposite.
However, if you’re looking for a easy to digest murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend is certainly an ideal recommendation. At the very least, the book should teach you not to make negative posts about people on Facebook or other social media sties, because a knife-wielding killer might be looking at your status.
An easy to digest slasher story that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend serves as a perfect reminder of the darker side of social media.
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