Plus One SXSW

It’s rare to exit a film utterly flabbergasted by the incompetence it displays on almost every level, and that’s especially the case when the filmmaker has proven themselves more than capable in the past. Dennis Iliadis directed the Last House on the Left remake a few years back, and goofy microwave denouement aside, it’s a surprisingly effective film. Regardless where you fall on the overall quality side of it though there’s little argument against it being a well shot and strongly told movie.

Which is why it’s a palpably disappointing surprise to see his latest film, Plus One, exhibit a lack of skill almost across the board.

David (Rhys Wakefield) is a bit of a dick. He makes a special trip to visit his girlfriend Jill (Ashley Hinshaw) on her turf, but while that alone is an act of affection he then proceeds to let another girl kiss him unaware that Jill has a front row seat for the smooch. She dumps him right before the biggest party of the year, but both of them decide to go anyway. David takes his best friend Teddy (Logan Miller), but Jill takes a date.

But what starts as a Can’t Hardly Wait-like teen comedy quickly becomes something altogether different. A small meteorite crashes nearby and disrupts the natural order by dropping in clones of everyone at the party… running thirty minutes or so behind the originals. Unaware of each others existence both groups go about their partying, but then the clones disappear and reappear running fifteen minutes behind. Then seven. Who are they, what do they want and what happens when the time frames match up is anyone’s guess, but when people on both sides start realizing the truth, the raging party becomes a raging bloodbath. Kind of.

This intentionally brief synopsis may not make a lot of sense, but most anyone will agree it’s an intriguing-enough premise. David is first to notice and immediately sees it as an opportunity while a friend sees a chance to get in touch with herself, but a thug who comes face to face with his double sees only the end of a gun before it blows out the back of his head. Fear of the unknown is a strong motivator for violence, and the inevitable paranoia and physical clashes represent one of the themes that Iliadis and screenwriter Bill Gullo are toying with here.

It’s not the only theme though as it’s also about the idea of second chances. And the concept of seeing ourselves as others see us. And being attracted to your perception of someone instead of to who they really are. Lack of themes is probably the one criticism that can’t be leveled at the film, which leads us to all the ones that do apply.

The problems start almost immediately thanks to a weak performance by Wakefield in an admittedly unlikable role. He fails to generate interest as an actor or character, and as the one with the most screentime that’s an unfortunate thing. Miller manages somewhat better, but it’s only Hinshaw who demonstrates care and skill with her performance. The double-up scenes look fine, but the film’s handful of other effects are incredibly shoddy with the worst offender being the CGI fire and seemingly hand-drawn “electrical” charge that runs up nearby power poles.

The script’s issues go beyond a crowded field of themes to include gaping logic holes, ridiculous actions and behaviors, and a lack of characters to give a damn about. Iliadis’ direction doesn’t do it any favors either with a cartoonish and amateurish feel to much of the film’s proceedings. The party in particular, which constitutes much of the film, feels incredibly false. Generic backgrounds are sprinkled with Project X-inspired inanity, and none of the teens act realistically.

There’s no question that Plus One has an interesting hook, but its execution fails in almost every regard. It builds a slight curiosity as to where things are heading, but aside from a brief, carnage-filled minute or two, little comes of it all. There are the makings of a truly solid thirty minute short here (or Twilight Zone episode), but as it stands, there not nearly enough to support the length.

The Upside: Copious nudity; interesting kernel of an idea

The Downside: Script has no clue what it’s trying to say and still says it poorly; too much bad to mediocre acting; shoddy effects

On the Side: Rhys Wakefield stars in three feature films this year, and all of them start with the letter ‘P.’

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