Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Review: +1 (2013)

+1 (2013)

Not rated

+1 is probably one of the most uneven films I've ever seen, and certainly one of the weirdest. It's handicapped by a story that's a bit difficult to follow at first and a protagonist who, between his dull acting and increasingly erratic behavior, I came to actively dislike by the end of the movie. However, what it lacks in substance, it makes up for in style, with outstanding special effects, trippy visuals, and dripping sexuality that grabbed my attention from start to finish. For all its faults, it's definitely worth watching at least once, and probably more than that.

The closest comparison I could make with the story is "Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Superbad", but that doesn't even begin to describe it. It takes place at a high school house party where David (Rhys Wakefield) is trying to mend his freshly-broken relationship with the college-bound Jill (Ashley Hinshaw), his friend Teddy (Logan Miller) is trying to get laid with the school's hot chick Melanie (Natalie Hall), and the outcast Allison (played by the twins Colleen and Suzanne Dengel) wonders what the hell she's doing there as she tries, and fails, to fit in. When the party moves outside, something strange happens: inside the house, duplicates of everybody at the party from fifteen minutes ago appear, going about their business just as they did before. David, Teddy, Melanie, and Allison, who had stayed in the house for various reasons, are the only ones who know what's happening, and after they see a man murder his double outside (or is it the other way around?), they grow convinced that their doubles are out to get them. And thanks to the temporal shenanigans that created them, the doubles are slowly moving up the time stream, getting ever closer to the originals. What will happen when a hundred drunken teenagers meet duplicates of themselves?

I'm gonna be blunt and get this film's biggest problem out of the way right now: David, the main character, is an unlikable asshole. When he finds out about the doubles, his reaction isn't worry like his friends, but rather, to see an opportunity to make things right with Jill after he'd fumbled his apology to her. At the start of the film, Jill caught David kissing another girl -- and not just any girl, but Jill's rival at the fencing competition she was participating in, him having mistaken her for Jill at first. (Awk-ward.) Needless to say, this made Jill feel replaceable, something that she tells David when he tries to apologize to her. And David, in his quest to fix their relationship, basically proves her right. Without spoiling anything, he does some downright heinous things to Jill, her double, and his own double over the course of the film, and Rhys Wakefield's cold performance only makes him look even more like a sociopath. In hindsight, our ostensible protagonist is probably the worst character in the entire film, an utter raging creep, and yet we're supposed to root for this guy. A mere change in tone could've made his actions go down much smoother, painting him in the morally ambiguous light that he should've had, and something tells me that they were indeed trying to go for that. Yet in the end, neither the film nor the other characters ever call him out on the shit he does.

The mechanics of how the "doubles" worked also took some time for me to figure out, especially once it was established that they're slowly moving forward in time and catching up, temporally, with the originals. While I did eventually get a grasp on what was happening, the fact that the doubles are transported to the exact location the originals were in before still confounded me. This makes sense at first, but as the film progresses and our protagonists start altering the course that the doubles would take, things start getting weird. For example, the double of Angad, the rich kid who organized the party, makes a comment to Jill's double that he likes how she dances when she's angry -- yet David had gone to Jill's double and made up with her, causing her to shrug and wonder what this kid is saying. (It was a comment the original Angad made to the original Jill in the original time stream.) A lot of these little things start piling up, especially at the end of the film. This is definitely a film I need to watch a second time in order to really figure out what's happening.

Another reason to watch it again: it is gorgeous. This film is drenched with visual style, a blur of neon and sex that, at its best, reminded me of why I loved Spring Breakers so much. When the shit started going down, it felt like something truly alien -- or perhaps magical -- was happening. When the doubles start interacting late in the film, the effects used to put each actor on screen twice are virtually seamless, even during the film's outrageous climax. And apart from Rhys Wakefield, those actors do a commendable job here, even playing what are basically teen movie stock characters. Their reactions to their bizarre circumstances run the gamut, but are all believable, ranging from the fear that Teddy and the drug dealer have to David's sense of opportunity to the strippers' initial puzzlement turned "eh, I've seen weirder shit in my life." The standouts were probably Colleen and Suzanne Dengel, who play Allison and her double, perhaps the only two level-headed people at the party. Allison's side-story, in which she meets and interacts with her double, has little bearing on the rest of the plot, but it's definitely one of the highest points in a movie filled with peaks and valleys. Her quiet journey, withdrawing from the party as it spirals out of control, stands in stark contrast to the growing maelstrom of mayhem around her, and she's without a doubt the easiest character to root for here. Allison and her double should've been the protagonists, dryly commenting on what a bunch of ingrates everyone else is.

Score: 3 out of 5

This movie has a lot to both love and hate about it, but I'm coming down on the side of recommending it, even with severe reservations. It's a film that I really think I ought to watch again to get a fuller sense of it, as it's certainly something I won't regret experiencing twice.

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