Director Dennis Iliadis brings his penchant for skin-crawlingly graphic violence to his new indie film +1, but it looks like that’s about the only remarkable quality he has brought to the project. If you saw Iliadis’s 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left, you know exactly what kind of violence is at play when Iliadis is at the helm. And while there are no head-in-microwave-death scenes in +1, there’s certainly more gore than you’d expect from a college party film.
The film’s plot revolves around party-going friends David (Rhys Wakefield) and Teddy (Logan Miller) who find themselves in the middle of one of those bizarre dimensional glitches. You know, the kind where temporally displaced replicas of you and everyone around you suddenly appear at the same party as you.
The attempts at explaining the appearance of the replicas are feeble at best. We get a few glimpses of a spooky electrical storm, which seems to be sufficient explanation for the supernatural occurrences of the evening, and the mystery is thankfully left at that. The screenwriter offers no pseudo-scientific BS to distract the audience from what’s actually important: the impending conflict between version A of every person at the party and version B of every person at the party.
There’s nothing special about the party scenes either. The dialogue sounds canned, the jokes fall flat, even the ambient noises of the party seem oddly out of place for a college-age rager. Worse still, the overall tone of the film’s first act feels mildly schizophrenic, swinging wildly from inebriated jubilation to melodramatic nonsense to pubescent sexual frustration, with barely a moment’s rest in between.
The film’s early lack of cohesion is nothing short of distracting, but fortunately for Iliadis the plot device of the unexplained duplicates is so good that we might forgive his directorial fumbles. As the tension and distrust between the two groups escalates, you begin to feel that +1 is going to delve into some very interesting philosophical territory.
One character, for instance, cautions his friends not to trust the replicas because, as he puts it, “They’re not exactly like us.” Can you think of a better way to frame a commentary on fear of the other, or knowing one’s own self, than having characters literally plotting against themselves?
Unfortunately for the viewer however, Iliadis is more interested in distracting his audience with an underpowered romance between two equally unlikeable protagonists, David and his ex-girlfriend Jill (Ashley Hinshaw), than he is in exploring potentially weighty themes like personal identity, fear of the unknown, and adolescent self-perception.
While Wakefield and Hinshaw’s flat acting may be to blame for the lifeless A-plot of + 1, Iliadis didn’t do his film any favors by making the B-plot – Teddy’s sexual romance with the token hot chick (Natalie Hall) – and the C-plot – a minor character’s romance with herself – infinitely more compelling than David and Jill’s vaguely psychotic and generally mean-spirited relationship.
Iliadis could have created something great for the audience with the plot device he was given, but what he creates instead is an underpowered and stale romance, made all the worse by contrast with what could have been.
I am so disillusioned by the end of the film that it’s difficult to find anything complimentary to say about +1. Nevertheless, Iliadis should be given due credit for an incredible scene of raw violence that brings the action of the film to a close. This one particular scene has the most emotional impact of any in the film, as blood-spattered walls make for a canvas Iliadis is familiar with.
With blood-soaked brush in hand, the director finally capitalizes on the deep, symbolic themes that flow like an undercurrent through +1—themes of self-abuse, self-hatred, and fear of the unknown, all fully brought to bear upon the audience at the film’s climax.
Ultimately however, in the last moments of the film, our attention is directed back to the stale romance, and the emotional payoff one would hope for after sitting through so many images of grotesque violence is completely withheld.
So while +1 could have challenged its audience with deep questions about identity, self, paranoia, and change, the only question Iliadis does ask is, “who cares?”
Grade: C+ for squandered potential.