There’s an incredibly admirable quality about filmmakers who put the importance of the narrative above the genre identification of their film, following the progression of characters rather than the necessity of the story. In one way, the gamble is undeniably risky, as to populate a film with characters that don’t resonate with an audience or are unlikable beyond the point of morbid fascination is a death wish for a film that puts the story second. However, if executed correctly and with the proper balance of subtlety, a filmmaker can provide unbound depth and intensity to a multi-faceted character study that bounces between genres as they’re all perceived through the same engrossing lens. It’s an art house take on a blockbuster mentality, and by grounding ambitious ideas within these characters, the power of emotional investment guides the story rather than expectations, logical and linear structure or the budgetary safety of crowd-pleasing conformity.
Indeed, +1, the genre-bending time rift terror from IFC Midnight, disregards the expectations of moviegoers but satisfyingly so, offering nuanced subversion in the way of palpable horror punctuating comedic scenarios, self-introspection via physical action and even science-fiction elements where the mental repercussions eclipse the physical damage presented. +1 plays all of its cards via an intricately entangled voyeurism, causing the audience to question their choices in the similar situation. In it’s execution, +1 is almost serialized, following three hopeful young people as they attend a blow-out party, and an extraterrestrial phenomenon causes a time rift that allows them to encounter their doppelgangers, 45 minutes in the past. One uses this opportunity to attempt to repair his broken relationship, adapting his approach from the knowledge of his mistakes; another uses this opportunity to inspire paranoia among the partygoers and the last uses it to find a connection within themselves after failing to do so with others. Indeed, through a less genre-bound point-of-view, +1 could be mistaken for the makings of a John Hughes comedy, but the unexpected twists on genre tropes brings the film into dark territory and in turn, creates one of the most vibrant, eerie sci-fi films of the year.
Of course, the most valuable asset to this production was director Dennis Iliadis, who, with the help of Lola Visual Effects and magnificent cinematographer Mihai Malaimare, offers a visual wonderment and stark imagery to contrast the boiling tension of the film. Iliadis and collaborator Bill Gullo write a film that ostensibly feels like The Twilight Zone for the MTV generation, basing the characters and their fates around the unknown but with decided obsessions at their core. There’s much the film could say about the human race and our relationship to our own habits and faults, but that never feels like the focus of the film, instead looking to solve the individual conflicts of each of our leads, which come to a crashing crescendo towards the third act. Likewise, the eclectic score from Nathan Larson balances the party music that invades much of the film, which adds to the overall bizarre vibe leading up to the main conflict. Once again, special credit is also deserved for Lola Visual Effects, as the effects, including both digital face removals and practical make-up violence, are incredibly realistic and worthy of celebration.
As with any film that’s driven by character, much of the film relies on the performance of the cast, much of whom are young and relatively unknown. However, between the naturalistic dialogue, the chemistry between the leads and the lack of scene-chewing stereotypes at center focus, the characters of +1 are gripping and vulnerable in an incredibly believable sense, even if the setting of said blow-out party may be reflexive in its own right. Rhys Wakefield and Ashley Hinshaw carry most of the dramatic weight of the film with relative ease, spinning the difficulties of their characters relationship with a finesse and weight that’s even more devastating as reality spirals out of proportion. Logan Miller provides much comic relief as Teddy, which makes his character’s arc all the more shocking as he watches the timelines go closer and closer to converging and unleashing fear-fueled anarchy. But the most fascinating performance comes from twins Colleen and Suzanne Dengel, who provide the films quieter conflict as the outsider Allison who capitalizes on this freak occurrence. The Dengel twins are simultaneously playing spunky and damaged, and they almost provide a poetic sense of intense stillness to the mental and emotional terror seeping through the other stories.
To put it plainly, +1 is as beautiful and refreshing as it is unpredictable and shocking. There’s never a sign of doubt within the cast or crew, and the universe that’s established refuses to exist within the rules of horror, drama or even science fiction. It’s a remarkably bold, surreal and violent take on a morally complicated situation that’s all too easy to envision and desire, and Iliadis deserves much praise for keeping the film atmospherically real throughout. Unlike most of this summer’s dreary science fiction output, +1 is a smart, character-driven science fiction film that paid as much attention to the script as it did to special effects, and that alone is enough to earn my respect and recommendation.