High schoolers have always suffered from the greatest degree of personal angst. Everything is a crisis, from the latest pimple to what they're going to do with their lives all the way down to what they're going to wear to school today. Plus, it's a universal experience – everyone who undergoes whatever rites of passage is common to the teen years is bound to be scared in some way, shape, or form by some sad event. What we become as a consequence of suffering all of that emotional duress I'm told is the first step toward adulthood, but, if PLUS ONE is any indication, some of us may have a body count following us around!
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you're the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,' then read on …)
David (played with curious emotional detachment by Rhys Wakefield) and Jill (a fetching Ashley Hinshaw) have hit an impasse in their two-year relationship, and nothing says ‘teen comedy' like bringing these two dueling lovebirds together for one last party of the summer. However, something is definitely afoot as a meteorite interacts with the city's power supply to create a dimension of overlapping timeframes. Suddenly, the house is packed with two versions of every person, and, before all is said and done, only one of each can and will be left alive.
A dark and demented fairy tale, PLUS ONE is arguably one of the most unusual cinematic hybrids I've ever seen. Who would've thought that a mash-up of the ultimate teen comedy with the fantastical elements of parallel dimensions would work? Truth be told, it doesn't work all that well – or, at least, all that consistently well – throughout the tale's seemingly endless ups and downs; but it's the kind of film that's probably destined for cult status amongst those who find it refreshingly original. Written and directed by Dennis Iliadis, ONE reminds me in several ways of 2007's superior TIMECRIMES: both films expose the increasing difficulty in trying to right what went wrong in matters of chronology.
The similarities end there as ONE ends up being less and less about the science of mastering time travel, instead following the path of least resistance by embracing the youth experience of the mashed up protagonists and their antagonizing temporal counterparts. Wakefield – as a lead – isn't particularly impressive as he spends far too much of this story on an internal quest: he desperately wants to find a way to get back into Jill's good graces, even if that means killing her original so that he can spend the rest of the evening with her alternate (whom he's fooled, thanks for re-living their earlier talk). Thus, he wastes an awful lot of screen time wandering around, appearing sullen and not very interesting. By contrast, Hinshaw's Jill looks terrific – she's imbued with the right balance of teen innocence and budding womanhood – but the scenes between her and David (either version) lack any palatable chemistry.
Director Iliadis clocks far better mileage with the film's secondary relationship – one far more convincing to the nature of high school make-out parties – focusing on David's pal, Teddy (Logan Miller), and Melanie (Natalie Hall). Theirs is the typical ‘brush with sex' that takes place in most raunchy teen comedies, and that's precisely how it plays out … only once. When their respective dopplegangers show up, the chemistry is understandably (and comically) spoiled, though that doesn't stand in one another's way of trying to make sense out of not only their budding hormones but also a shared temporal anomaly.
At 96 minutes, PLUS ONE still feels a bit overlong – with several sequences treacherously overwrought to the point of confusion – and the circularity of it all starts to fall apart before the big and bloody climax. But scoring solely on the merits of a film holding one's interest bodes well for this little sleeper. Not quite funny but not quite serious either, it's definitely one that kept me thinking until the last frame.
PLUS ONE (aka +1) (2013) is produced by Process Productions in association with Lola Visual Effects and Hydraulx Entertainment. DVD distribution is being handled by MPI Media Group through IFC Midnight. As for the technical specifications, the film is accented with quality sights and sounds, though I found some of the special effects to appear a bit juvenile compared to some of the better efforts available today. But if it's special features you want? Look no further than this disc as there's a commentary track, some behind-the-scenes shorts exploring the said effects, deleted scenes, cast and crew interviews, a poster gallery, cast auditions, and multiple theatrical trailers. Now that's what I call "special" features, indeed! Nicely prepared!
RECOMMENDED. I'd stop just short of saying that I enjoyed the entirety of PLUS ONE. Rather, it's one of those experiences I'd describe as frustrating as it was interesting, as ground-breaking as it was trivial, and as exciting as it was dull. The script tries to weave strategically through one mind-blowing night in the lives of perhaps too many primary and secondary characters, and while it's easy to score points for originality it's also easy to lose them in a relatively lackluster presentation. Also, our two leads fail to muster any relatable chemistry – though theirs is in part a frustration we've all been through (wanting to recapture a lost love) – but the far more interesting pairing ends up in the quirkiest menage a trois Freud would've imagined!
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with an advance DVD copy of PLUS ONE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.