There are various faces that the science fiction thriller film can wear, between the heavy-handed social or political allegories, genre-hybrid homage marathons and absolutely gonzo surrealism that have come out of Hollywood and Independent scenes time and time again. And while subversive elements may make these repetitive entries more palatable as filmmakers develop and adapt, nothing can beat good story, characters and horrors to set your film against the grain. By spending more time on developing a cohesive narrative driven by character motivation and underlying moral and existential philosophy, you can create a dark, intense thriller that still conveys sophisticated messages and visual fascination along the way. It’s in this rare occasion that +1, the newest film from Dennis Iliadis and IFC Midnight, was spawned, offering a violent, horrific thriller with an extraterrestrial element that poses the age-old question: If you could go back in time and change your path, what would you do?
With this particular project, Iliadis takes the character and drama driven stories from his previous filmmaking endeavors and applies them to an extraordinary situation of time rifts and doubles, using the backdrop of a seminal party to bring the story to a head. Iliadis dares the audience to look into his young, fresh faced cast- which includes the breakout star of The Purge, Rhys Wakefield- and ask themselves what they would do in their shoes, and then goes into despicable territory, asking the audience to empathize with paranoia, fear and, ultimately, malice. +1 is one of the most off-beat and unique sci-fi / horror offerings to come out of the independent community in quite some time, neglecting the call for popcorn-chomping sci-fi entertainment in favor of a deep, Twilight Zone-esque think piece with brutal danger, emotional weight and character investment. Iliadis spoke to Diabolique about +1, his young cast and staying fresh in the world of genre filmmaking…
DIABOLIQUE: What inspired you to tackle a story that deals with time rifts and, to an extent, doppelgangers, especially in an independent production?
DENNIS ILIADIS: Well, it started with the great intellectual idea of “What if you were able to meet yourself? What would you do?” That’s an idea that’s always fascinated me. Then, I took the idea further and said, “What if you were able to meet yourself but what if he/she was sharing the same environment as you, in a supercharged and emotionally heightened environment, and you were replaying the same things?” In other words, imagine if you didn’t have time to process [what was happening], and yourself showed up every 45 minutes and they were 45 minutes behind in time, and they were just closing in, claiming the exact same things you wanted. Then, an intellectual idea becomes a very scary potential conflict.
The way I came up with the idea was from disastrous events in my love life where I said, “Fuck, if I could get those 20 minutes back, I would not fuck up in the way that I did. Could somebody give me those 20 minutes back?” So it was a combination of those things [that inspired me.]
DIABOLIQUE: How did you decide to add this extraordinary twist on the human horror that you’re known for as a filmmaker?
ILIADIS: Well, the interesting thing about this movie is that it shows the different directions and the outcomes that [this situation] would take. You have three characters that deal with [this situation] in very different ways. You have David, who manipulates the situation to get Jill back and then, in the name of love, does something horrifying but still gets the girl. You have Teddy, who is having the night of his life and doesn’t want anything to change that and transfers his knowledge of the events to everyone else, which is a very paranoid response. Then you have Allison, who can’t really connect with others and she gets a chance to connect with herself, and she has a very more tender storyline and outcome. So it was very much about using the time to develop the characters, their desires and their psychology, and watch the possible different outcomes through their projections and approaches.
DIABOLIQUE: Is there any specific reason you returned to independent filmmaking following your remake of The Last House on the Left?
ILIADIS: After Last House, I was attached to a lot of projects. Sometimes, [those projects will] take too long, so it’s always good to have a more personal project on a smaller budget up your sleeve.
DIABOLIQUE: Did you feel like +1 was a film more suited for an independent storytelling mindset and the resourcefulness that comes with an independent budget?
ILIADIS: No, actually. It was crazy ambitious to try to do this film on a lower budget, honestly. We were lucky to have Lola Visual Effects and Hydraulics. Lola did the face replacements on The Social Network and have worked on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and other great films. +1 was so technically demanding because we needed the same person against himself, or herself, in very tight spaces with crazy camera movements and physical interaction. We wouldn’t have been able to do [the film] without them. It’s amazing that [Lola Visual Effects] came on as co-producers. It was just very, very hard but I think if you decide to do something in the independent world, you need it to be fresh and different; you have to take some risks.
DIABOLIQUE: +1 is a very unique genre offering because by no means does it follow the expectations laid on by typical horror fare. Do you think the film works better as something not defined by genre expectations or do you think that the film works better in subverting those expectation knowingly?
ILIADIS: I don’t think the key word is “horror”. I think the film is more of a science fiction thriller. At the same time, these things help me take this science fiction idea and bring it into the horror genre once things get out of control. It’s definitely a genre bender in the sense that it combines a lot of different elements. I think it belongs in the science fiction thriller mold, but it’s a genre film that combines a few things.
DIABOLIQUE: In a way, the philosophical questions posed in +1 makes the film feel more along the lines of The Twilight Zone as opposed to many of the science fiction thrillers that have emerged as of late. Do you think by putting this situation in the middle of this romantic drama at a party that these metaphors will equally resonate with the current generation?
ILIADIS: I think the risk we took here is that we took this great science fiction idea and placed it in this great environment where emotions are very raw and everyone is charged. These characters have not yet become cynical and they think that this is the night where everything happens. It’s quite epithetical and at the same time, it lets you take that idea and throw it in a really dynamic setting where there’s no time to think or intellectually process. The way people project that idea is under extreme pressure as their desires, hormones and insecurities are boiling. So in that way, I don’t think +1 is like your average sci-fi movie, which would literally happen in a more constructed environment. At the same time, that [difference] turns the movie into an emotional rollercoaster ride, which allows the film to go to dark places, but I think that’s great.
DIABOLIQUE: As with many of your other projects, you didn’t really seek out any recognizable names or faces for the young cast of +1. What is it about working with relative unknowns that makes their casting appeal to you?
ILIADIS: Well, in this movie, there’s only one adult and you only see their back. I like characters of that age because I think their emotions are still unfiltered. Cynicism hasn’t settled in and they go after their goals in an emotional, full-on way. It’s very important to me. I like characters who don’t have filters, because then their emotions and desires are really raw. Of course, when dealing with such stories, you want fresh faces and amazing actors, and we’re very luck to have Ashley [Hinshaw], Rhys [Wakefield], Logan [Miller] and Natalie [Hall] because initially, they look very familiar as if to fit in with teen movie stereotypes, and then they unravel in very interesting ways. Rhys especially had a super tricky part because he’s obsessive but he’s not playing the part of a psychopath, though in the name of love, he does a pretty horrific act, which you actually believe. Rhys was a phenomenal actor and it was great to work with him.
DIABOLIQUE: There’s a very delicate balance in +1 of the dramatic elements in the film as well as the science fiction and horror elements. Did you find it difficult to find the right amount of these elements to allow them to coexist, either from a writing standpoint or as a director?
ILIADIS: It’s about knowing genre, but at the same time saying, “Okay, I’m not going by the book, so I have to give extra time to the characters so we can get to know them and understand their needs, desires and psychology.” So when the phenomenon kicks in, I can really go with them and understand the way they react and the way they project their response to this. So it’s knowing about genre but allowing for more space for character development.
DIABOLIQUE: As a writer on +1, you came up with an inventive and ominous way of creating this particular time rift. Did you have any trouble of creating that catalyst for the past and future selves to meet?
ILIADIS: Well, once I came up with the idea for +1, the easy way out would have been to say that these doubles are evil or they’re aliens or whatever, but I said, “No. The doubles are the exact same people 45 minutes earlier.” In one way, that gives you the perfect antagonist but at the same time, it gives people enough time to project their feelings, like, “What’s going on here?” Then, before they have time to process it, they understand that the doubles all want the same thing they want, but with each lapse, they’re closing in on our time. So you’re basically seeing those doubles being projected upon and turning into the enemy.
DIABOLIQUE: Now that you’ve tackled science fiction and horror, do you have anything else currently in development? Are there any other genres you’d like to tackle from here on out?
ILIADIS: Well, I like to do extreme character movies where you really have a character’s story but you put them through the genre rollercoaster. I’m attached to quite a few movies, but there’s two movies that seem to be moving faster right now. One is called Home, with Appian Way and GK Films, and the other is a project with Blumhouse Productions called Bloodline.
You can catch +1, the newest film from Dennis Iliadis, on VOD and in select theaters today from IFC Midnight. For more information on +1, check out the films official website here. For more from Dennis Iliadis, IFC Midnight and +1, check back here at DiaboliqueMagazine.com.