There's a movement of sci fi film makers for whom Groundhog Day is a bigger influence than 2001: A Space Odyssey. They're making creative, character-and-concept driven films, but with a suburban setting: Films in Primer's wake, like Another Earth and Coherence. Cerebral teen headscratcher +1 (IFC Midnight) hopes to join their ranks.
SXSW 2013 curio +1 (or Plus One, depending on your search engine) has all the hallmarks of a must-miss. A bunch of spoiled rich kids get together in their first summer after the summer after high school for one of those parties you'll never forget, blah blah blah. So far, so representative of a thousand immemorable flicks (seriously, when was the last time you watched Cherry Falls?)
But from the opening shot – a rose with a rotted, curled-over edge – it's clear that there's some thing lot smarter going on here than the average college party pic.
Some elements are a little overly predictable, with a lot of characters straight out of central casting. Rhys Wakefield (the unnerving Patrick Bateman-esque polite leader from The Purge and, like You're Next's Sharni Vinson, an alumnus of Australian soap Home and Away), plays David, a Dawson-esque floppy-haired teen who stayed home while all his friends went to college, and is trying to patch things up with his high-achieving girlfriend Jill (Chronicle's Ashley Hinshaw.) Logan Miller (star of Disney's I'm With the Band and the under-rated dinner party shocker Would You Rather) is Teddy, his horny, frizzy-haired friend/wing man/irresponsible Jiminy Cricket. Meanwhile, twins Suzanne and Colleen Dengel play Alison, the moody, stroppy, sardonic redhead part that would have gone to Alicia Witt a decade ago.
Yes, twins. Because something more serious than spiked punch is happening at this party. After a meteor strikes nearby, duplicates of party guests start appearing. Yet are they really duplicates, or is there a much more quantum-physics, string theory reason behind why everyone seems to be doing the same things twice?
With a devious and surprisingly low-fi story, writer/director Dennis Iliadis puts the universally panned/generally redundant 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left behind him. His explanation in the interviews included on the disc paint +1 as a film about second chances, as David uses the appearance of duplicate Jill to try to re-write history. However, it quickly becomes a much darker, more savage tale of survival, as the originals and their duplicates try to solve the enigma of their split nature, and paranoia sets in.
There are some undoubted similarities to the upcoming Coherence, but with some fascinating differences that spring from one core division. James Byrkit's microbudget masterpiece, which was the surprise toast of Fantastic Fest 2013, centers on a small party of intelligent, curious adults facing a change in the cosmic rules. +1 is about drunken teens. If there's a bad, misguided or just plain dangerous decision to be made, they'll make it. Instead of level heads, there is a genuine metaphysical turmoil in the midst of all this spoiled brat hedonism. How do people react if they meet themselves from mere moments ago: With fear, recognition, violence? And how do they deal with the emotional repercussions?
Iliadis deliberately keeps the grown-ups out of this: The nearest hint of adult restraint is the motionless back of David's disengaged father's head, and a passing, malevolent drug dealer. A snippet in one of the two music videos included in the extras implies there was some more interactions that were cut out, and it's for the better. Aside from a couple of character-developing scenes at school and in David's room, the whole story has a Twilight Zone sealed bottle energy and tension.
+1 has all the trappings of a contemporary teen party movie (strippers, wrecked houses, terrible dance music), but it paints them with the kind of queasy fun-not-fun feel Zach Braff depicted in the x-ed scenes in Garden State. The enigmatic central conceit, and surprising twists as the originals and the duplicates follow, repeat and diverge from each other, mean it's definitely watchable. Plus, unlike pretty much any college party movie since Animal House, the need to check back on which person is where when, and exactly how well some of the tiny cogs of this Escher loop timepiece fit together, give it rewatchability. It's no Primer but it's definitely not the Project X look-a-like you may think it is.
+1 (IFC MIdnight) is available now on DVD and VOD.
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