Movie Review – +1 (2013)
What would you do if you were confronted with your doppelganger? Attack it? Embrace it? Feel disgust or fear? Feel compelled to protect it? 2013’s +1 doesn’t dwell too ponderously on these questions and the possible answers, but it does touch upon them in interesting ways. One exchange in particular illustrates the opposing views. One characters states, “From the Book of Talmud: to meet oneself is… is to meet God.” To which another character responds, “Yeah, well in my book to meet God means to be dead.” Our own agendas and perceptions ultimately determine how we see ourselves and whether we fear or embrace change.
The late Oxford scholar of German Language and Literature S.S. Prawer has written of the doppelganger motif in horror, in reference to the essay “Der Doppelganger” (1925) by Otto Rank, one of Freud’s followers, that “the Doppelganger represents, in the first instance, the hidden part of ourself… but it also revives primitive beliefs in the independent, almost bodily, existence of our soul, mirror and puppet magic, demons or gods who amuse themselves by taking on our shapes – and all of these combine to produce a shudder that is full of dim memories” (Caligari’s Children: The Film as Tale of Terror, 118). +1, in one way or another, touches upon all these various aspects of our fears of confronting our doubles.
Dennis Iliadis’s film takes a subgenre of film that, in my opinion, reached its nadir in the mid-1990s – the teen-party-sex-comedy where a house party becomes a crucible for cartoonish characters to discover themselves as they stumble upon or seek out love. 1998’s Can’t Hardly Wait is a prime example. Though that film was meant to be a defining feature of my generation’s high school years, I never connected with it. It felt insincere and hollow, and the characters mere shadows of real people meant to represent me and my friends. I was pleased, then, to see Iliadis take that same basic scenario, with comparable characters, and have the mirror come to them, resulting in often violent confrontations.
+1 is a surprisingly beautiful film, with photography by Mihai Mălaimare, Jr. It’s also tightly crafted, allowing for repetition and visual cues to let us know where things stand in terms of the original characters and their doubles. Iliadis takes a risk by giving us an increasingly unlikable central character in David (Rhys Wakefield), but it pays off by giving the traditional teen-party-romance ending a macabre twist. Plus, we get some depth to characters normally relegated to clichés, such as Teddy (Logan Miller), who takes the opposite track from David by becoming increasingly more relatable, or Melanie (Natalie Hall), who goes from the trope of “Hot Chick at the party that Horny Teen wants to fuck” to a viable character with interesting and ambiguous turns.
Though classified as sci-fi, don’t look for science here, as it’s never the story’s focus, nor does it try to explain the source of the doubling in realistic terms. It might as well have been done by an incantation, as the plot would remain the same. The doppelganger is a source of horror going back to the genre’s first feature length film, 1913’s The Student of Prague. +1 updates the idea and allows for more variation, but the scenario forcibly pushes the characters to indulge and act upon their generally dark desires, impulses, and fears. It’s the horror of looking yourself in the eyes and making the judgment we all fear to make.