Review: Plus One
PLOT: A raucous college party gets even crazier when doubles of the guests begin to blend into the crowd following a meteor crash nearby.
REVIEW: It's a minor achievement, but it must be said that PLUS ONE (or +1) is something quite unexpected. What could have been a standard-issue INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS type thriller is instead a largely ambiguous brain-teaser; a movie that stands more than a few genre conventions on their heads and gives the audience something to think about rather than just stare at. It doesn't always work - sometimes it actually gets a little too weird for its own good - but it's undeniable that PLUS ONE is a compellingly odd little movie; easily one of the weirdest movies I've seen in a few years.
Like an episode of "The Twilight Zone" melded with CAN'T HARDLY WAIT, director Dennis Iliadis (whose last film, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, is a much different animal) and screenwriter Bill Gullo explore the implications of being confronted by not only a second version of yourself, but a second version of someone you know. Quick example: Imagine a stupid argument you've just had with your significant other. They walk away, disgusted. What if, minutes later, a "new" version of that person arrived, carrying all the same memories leading up to your blow up but trailing just a few minutes. You'd have a chance to say the right thing this time... Think of it as time-traveling without actually going anywhere.
It's a concept that's almost impossible to describe, but that's what makes it kind of nifty. In the film, a meteor passes over a small college town, creating this unusual phenomenon: doubles of people partying at a lavish mansion start appearing, unbeknownst to most of the revelers. The only ones initially cognizant of this are a handful of friends: David (Rhys Wakefield), who recently screwed up big time with his girlfriend Jill (Ashley Hinshaw); David's goofy best friend Teddy (Logan Miller), who is looking to get laid at all costs; and wallflower Allison (Colleen Dengel), who is just hoping to leave the party without being made fun of. The three notice that their doubles begin to walk about the party, but not in a sinister manner; in fact, these doppelgängers are doing the same things the "original" versions of themselves did, only minutes earlier. It's like they're watching an instant replay of themselves.
What are the doubles actually doing here? Are they attempting to take over our "original" versions? Are they products of an alien experiment? What's with the meteor? Iliadis and writer Bill Gullo avoid the easy route by not exactly answering these questions. They're more intrigued by the effect the phenomenon has on the people who are watching events unfold, and what at first seems like it's going to be a thriller actually turns into an offbeat comedy with only a sparse amount of suspense. The friends have differing reactions to the incident; while at first they're all terrified, David eventually sees it as an opportunity to make up with the second version of Jill. Of course, he'll have to get his own double out of the way. Meanwhile, Allison is able to come to the aid of her bullied double. Teddy is the only one who sees the creepy implications of the doubles, but clearly it's going to be hard to convince a houseful of drunken teenagers that something freakish is occurring.
The film isn't quite as confusing as the description, although to be sure there are plenty of head-scratching moments - and that's what's fun about what Iliadis is doing here. The director continually subverts our assumptions about where this is all headed, and even when the strange situation does become obvious to the majority of the partygoers and a war appears as though it's going to break out, Iliadis keeps on skewing the scenario and making it even more absurd.
Certainly, there's a price to pay for all this spaced-out genre-bending: when it's over, we realize PLUS ONE is mostly an entertaining peculiarity as opposed to a full-blooded film, an experience you don't truly care about. Because the situation is so wacky, the characters begin acting wacky too, and when we arrive at the third act it all begins to feel like wackiness for its own sake. (Two versions of the same person actually kiss; at that moment all you can do is roll your eyes.) You're not as invested in the people as much as you are in the situation, unfortunately, and as amusing it is to watch Iliadis twist and turn his protagonists around, at the end of the day characters are always more important than plot.
Still, I do admire PLUS ONE, and am happy to see that Iliadis, after the stark drama of his directorial debut HARDCORE and the oppressive unpleasantness of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, is capable of something rather different.