“PLUS ONE” (SXSW Movie Review)
Were you a different person 45 minutes ago? Is it wild to suggest you may have been? At an age like 18, 19 or 20, a significant time of development and personal understanding, it might not be. Kids are ever changing, ever evolving and often, not so organically. They revolve interests, style and friends in an effort to grasp themselves and impress others. All the while, they hemorrhage mistakes and spew nervous energy with little time to understand what’s working and what isn’t. PLUS ONE, the latest from Greek filmmaker Dennis Iliadis (THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), forces surreal reflection on the youth at a lavish house party, in a pop art-horror spin on one-night-can-change-everything teen movies.
Clearly inspired by, and critical of, the insane heights of house parties in the likes of PROJECT X and 21 & OVER, the meat of PLUS ONE exists at such an all out bash. It’s an already unrealistic vision (have you ever been to one with light shows? Go-go dancers?), so that when a simple, cosmic event sets forward the film’s conceit, there’s little fighting the stranger places it’s willing to go. David (Rhys Wakefield) and Teddy (Logan Miller) are the central players and ones who quickly catch on that all isn’t right, as doubles of themselves and everyone else attending are popping up and reliving the evening, just about 45 minutes prior. With each blackout of lights, the doubles catch up in time, forcing more to understand the situation.
Iliadis really flexes his stylistic tendencies through slick party photography that’s turned just a bit uncomfortable and confrontational, and uses such to examine characters’ understanding of themselves and their actions. David, having just lost girlfriend Jill (Ashley Hinshaw) in a case of mistaken identity idiocy (and foreshadowing) realizes he can give his unaccepted apology another shot and attempts to manipulate at least one version of her into taking him back. His rough handling of rejection and the changing of lives he rallies so hard against reveals someone in love with a vision he holds of Jill, not the sure, inquisitive woman she’s growing into.
Teddy, meanwhile, lucks into an evening with the ultimate crush and while able to reflect on what he quickly refers to as the best night of his life, is also horrified by the discovery. His focus is less self-serving, vying for the attention of his peers in an effort to understand and solve the night’s threats.
But our two protagonists are perhaps nowhere near as interesting as the later developments. The socially shy Allison (played by twins Colleen and Suzanne Dengel), in the film’s more psychedelic of subplots, finds her doppelganger and they proceed to connect and find a certain harmony. Each interaction is indicative of these developing young adults’ and how they fit, or don’t, into their own skin. Allison, having accepted a solitary place in the world and made peace with such is able to peaceably interact and find comfort in “herself.” The rest of the party is not so lucky as they’re eventually forced to witness their trashy revelry all over again, with the power surges embodying the harsh light that makes ugly all your fun in the dark.
Getting to these far out, admirably odd beats requires some accepting that Teddy and the ensemble will arrive at certain pieces of knowledge in a perhaps far-too-quick manner, but the delirious, bloody climax and PLUS ONE’s headier interests are worth the smaller, rough bits. It’s an unsettling, often funny and strange peek into growing up and accepting who you are.