Judge Gordon Sullivan can't wait for the sequel Plus One Plus One.
Every party has some uninvited guests.
There's a story of two titans of midcentury SF, one of whom was down on his luck. The other, as a gesture of friendship, sent him a letter of encouragement that included ten stories ideas that could be written up and sold to alleviate his financial strain. This story tells us a couple of things. The first is that ideas are important; in the right hands they can be worth money. The second, though, is that ideas, while important, aren't worth that much by themselves. They need a competent hand to turn them into something people will want to buy. It's a fancy way of saying that concepts are cool, but presentation is what sells. This is why Star Wars can crib from Kurosawa and Joseph Campbell. Sometimes, people forget that a strong concept and poor execution don't make a good mix. That's the problem that befalls Plus One: though it's concept sounds good on paper, the execution leaves much to be desired.
Facts of the Case
Plus One takes place at the biggest party of the season, but David (Rhys Wakefield, The Purge) and Jill (Ashley Henshaw, Chronicle) aren't going together, thanks to a nasty breakup. David brings along his friend Teddy (Logan Miller, The Bling Ring), while Jill finds another guy as well. Once they get to the party, though, things take a dark turn.
It's really difficult to talk about Plus One and do it justice. The film is at its most effective when you know little about it, and the "twist" or "concept" of the film slowly reveals itself to you. So I don't want to say too much about it, for fear of ruining the film for those who want to enjoy it "unspoiled."
However, I can say that, however great the concept (which I'll address in a bit), Plus One leaves a lot to be desired. The first act of the film is painfully slow. The film sets itself up as another "big party" movie, the type that's seen a resurgence lately with Project X (the most common point of comparison for this movie that I've seen). Thus we have to get introduced to our fairly generic protagonists, their various issues, and then get them to the party. Then the second act starts, and things get weird. If you're looking for another Project X, then this isn't the film for you. The darker turn things take can be confusing initially, and I can see a lot of audiences feeling cheated that the nudity filled debauch they've been lead to expect is, in fact, something much stranger.
That's the main problem with Plus One: it has to risk a ho-hum first act and a confusing second one to pay off big (it hopes!) in the final third. This raises two serious issues. The first is that even those who (like I did) know what's coming will have to sit through some pretty tired storytelling moments to get to the payoff. Alternately, the film has to risk annoying or disappointing viewers looking for just another Project X, hoping to live vicariously through the drugs, dancing, and writhing bodies. I'm not sure that the reveal is quite worth the potential problems that it creates.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Mild spoilers ahead!
Most of the above assumes the viewer is an average moviegoer just looking for a party film. One of the things that keeps Plus One from sinking totally is the fact that it's looking to be a bit more than just a party movie. It's a film that's actually trying to say something with its sci-fi-inspired concept. Again, I don't to say much more than that, but Plus One is really an investigation of what it means to live in the contemporary world. Though many of the things we do are similar to the way they've always been done, the feeling of being both trapped and freed by our increasing "connection" via technology is something that Plus One takes up. Its premise—which involves the appearance of doppelgangers—gives characters the opportunity to see themselves. Unsurprisingly they don't always like what they see. It's a clever, interesting premise that deserves a second look (even if that first act is a bit tedious).
Director Dennis Iliadis endeared himself to no one by remaking Last House on the Left, but for Plus One he pulls out all the stops. Not only does he go for an original premise (which he wrote, and had turned into a screenplay by Bill Gullo), but he gives the look of the film extra attention. Cinematographer Mihal Malamaire, Jr. has proven his mettle as the go-to DP for Francis Ford Coppola's twenty-first century creations, and Plus One finds him working in lots of challenging lighting situations. The result is a film that's visually interesting from the first shot onward. Even when the plot flags a bit in the first half, the visuals are consistently interesting.
All this is enhanced by an excellent DVD release. The film's 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is generally strong. Detail is fine, colors are appropriately saturated, but this transfer gets the most important thing right: black levels. Much of the film takes place at a party, and like most parties it's pretty dark. Detail and darkness never suffer, as black levels stay deep without serious crushing or simply falling into total darkness. There's a nice digital sheen over the whole thing that gives it a unified feel as well. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track showcases the booming beats of the dance music without ever losing sight of the film's dialogue. There's good directionality to be had as well.
Extras start with a commentary featuring Iliadis and Malamaire. The opening words talk about it being a commentary by "a Romanian and a Greek talking about an American party movie." Both have interesting insights to share about the film and its production, though they're both quiet (in terms of volume) and sometimes lapse into extended silence. We also get more in-depth looks at the film's visual effects in a number of featurettes. We also hear more from Iliadis and his cast in several interviews. There's also a set of deleted scenes, a poster gallery, a set of audition tapes from the cast, and two trailers (including a red band).
For the casual viewer just showing up to Plus One, it's probably going to be a dissatisfying retread of Project X that goes a bit askew. For those willing to give a strange concept some credence, multiple viewings of Plus One reveal a film with an interesting take on relationships and the images we build of ourselves. In either case, this is a solid DVD that's worth at least a rental.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2014 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.