'+1' is another example of an ambitious concept executed with absolute narrative conformity
+1 IFC Midnight
Director: Dennis Iliadis
Screenplay: Bill Gullo
Starring: Rhys Wakefield, Ashley Hinshaw, Logan Miller, Suzanne Dengel, Natalie Hall and Rohan Kymal
Not rated / 1 hour, 35 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
Characters in movies never know how to deal with the inexplicable. Or rather, filmmakers don't know how to have them deal with it. Chalk it up to an aversion to abstract thinking. It's easy enough to come up with a crazy idea; handling that idea is a different matter altogether. The more insane the premise, the greater the impulse to normalize it, to set rules for it. The characters figure out what's going on and adjust to the impossible circumstances with remarkable ease, then go about figuring out how to overcome/defeat/survive whatever it is they're facing.
But the worst possible thing you can do is apply logic to that which is, by definition, illogical. I'm sure it makes it easier to fit the conceit into a palatable, workable screenplay, but more often than not it drains the film of the very thing that made it interesting in the first place.
This is what makes the films of Shane Carruth (Primer, Upstream Color) so rewarding - his ability to broach intangible concepts and, even while grounding them in a sense of realism, embracing the ideas' abstract qualities. Even if and when we understand what happens and what it all means, it remains strange and confounding - as it should. Then there's a movie like, for example, The Happening, which takes a fundamentally abstract and largely metaphorical concept and turns it into a movie where people strategically run away from the wind.
And here we have Dennis Iliadis' +1, a metaphysical thriller that seems to have been made by people who've watched one too many episodes of LOST. Bereft of purpose beyond experimentation with a concept for its own sake, +1 is the kind of puzzle movie that mistakes complication for complexity. It takes place at an elaborate party amongst 19-year-olds - elaborate to the degree that it basically looks like a fantasy, music-video version of an adult nightclub, resembling no party ever thrown by teenagers in the history of teenagers - during which, through some seemingly otherworldly, electrical force, they begin seeing double. So to speak. Multiple copies of every person at the party begin popping into existence, each set taking place at a different point in time within a single night. When everyone has left the house to go around back for an exotic dance show, their doppelgängers remain in the house, living out the same moments that already took place an hour or so prior.
Then another power surge hits, and there are three versions of each person. Et cetera. Only our main characters notice this phenomenon, and they take the opportunity to try and re-do moments they may have screwed up the first time around. This is of particular interest to David (Rhys Wakefield, the memorable leader of the masked home invaders in this summer's The Purge), who is on the outs with his girlfriend Jill (Ashley Hinshaw) after a minor indiscretion, and is looking for some way to put things right. This miraculous event has come along at just the right time.
But soon David - along with his best friend Teddy (Logan Miller) and their virtually sexless pal Allison (Suzanne Dengel) - has bigger fish to fry; namely, warning everyone of the situation at hand after realizing that the various timelines are gradually getting closer together with each power surge, and will eventually collide. What exactly will happen when the timelines collide, or why that's even a big deal, is never determined. It's an obstacle that's not really an obstacle. Once it becomes clear exactly what's happening, the film stampedes into idiot mode, with the characters logically discussing the ins and outs of this completely impossible and implausible scenario. Iliadis and screenwriter Bill Gullo seem unwilling or unable to embrace the wild chaos of their premise, so they turn it into just another plot; just another problem that needs to be solved. The characters might as well be waiting on a burglar, or a tornado, or for their parents to suddenly come home; it wouldn't make a difference. They would behave the same way no matter what. And that is how you ruin a premise like this - you make it seem like a standard, everyday event. You make your characters accept their inexplicable reality all too quickly.
The movie's worst fault is, in the end, having no justification for its big idea. (Did I mention it reminded me of LOST?) Ultimately nothing is made of the event except for the pat resolution of an uninteresting teen romance. +1 isn't boring - it does a nice job choreographing its overlapping and repeated events, and it's shot with energy and style by The Master cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. - but it's entirely empty. A unique conceit like this one deserves unique treatment; instead, once again, the peculiar and scary is made to seem utterly ordinary, and all too easily understood.