Adventures in Streaming …

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Plus One

The thumbnail for Plus One – and in fact the cover art for the film – looks sort of like the cover of a 1980’s tweens book (not my usual taste, so not very appealing), but the blurb made it sound a little more interesting, so I gave it a chance.

We follow a group of just-grew-up-a-minute-ago people who are attending a party; we also see something they don’t see: a strange electrical disturbance that creates a bifurcation, so that each of the characters exists again a few moments later.

Unfortunately, only the audience is privy to the electrical disturbance, and only the audience realizes that these duplicates the party-goers are seeing are actually just themselves a few moments later. So they all do what people tend to do in these situations – they panic about what they believe to be evil doppelgangers, and try to kill them. They even succeed a couple of times, clubbing their counterparts to death with gardening tools and ripping their faces off.

As the time bubble (or whatever you would call it) slowly collapses, the few-moments-later them are fewer and fewer moments later, until finally the duplicate group is trying to exist in the same moment with the primary group. This does not go well for anyone.

Especially since the audience knows what caused the bifurcation, it’s surprising how effectively the actors evoke tension and alarm about the possible intent of their other selves. Many of the characters are stereotypical – the drunk jock, the nice guy who finishes last, the popular girl who isn’t particularly pleasant, the loner, etc. – but the actors are solid and tell a good story.

Because the “effects” are just the actors themselves and straightforward blood-and-fisticuffs, everything is extremely believable; the juxtaposition between the primary group and the duplicate group is easy to follow, and I didn’t experience any continuity errors in that regard, which felt impressive since so many people and interactions were involved in the scenes. Because the audience is aware that the second group is really just the first group again, the scenes of panic and the final physical conflict feel pretty gritty – they’re not aliens or pod-people or government robots or anything; they’re just people, being clubbed to death with garden tools.

The metaphor of being afraid of ourselves is a nice touch, in addition to the more obvious metaphor of being afraid of new things we can’t understand. The primary group’s sudden willingness to annihilate other human beings (humans that look exactly like them, to boot) is fairly chilling and yet not surprising – it’s an excellent comment on letting fear make our decisions.

Some of the interactions between the two groups are surprising for other reasons: the loner has an interesting exchange with her other self, and the main male character’s resolution to conflict with his girlfriend is unexpected and thought-provoking – he’s not exactly “the bad guy”, but suddenly we’re left wondering, who have we been watching? Would we do the same in his place? Is what he does even wrong, given the context of the film? What about the people ferociously killing their other selves? Their actions may be understandable, but are they acceptable? Would we behave that way in that situation, and would that be good or bad?

Ultimately Plus One is entertaining and well-done – definitely a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.

popcorn icon    10 out of 10

The Thing I Like About …

… sci-fi/horror from the fifties: they seemed to think the audience had a brain.

From Monolith Monsters to Tarantula to The Incredible Shrinking Man, these movies employed practically no exposition whatsoever. If there was “science” to be explained – whether real or fanciful – it was presented in clear terms as though anyone could understand it – because anyone can. Especially if the science was the actual established science of the time, the moviemakers made the rash assumption that people might actually be learning things in school all day, and that they might be paying attention to the world around them.

People acted the way people act, without a lot of interpersonal drama about it, because it was assumed that the human beings in the audience might actually know about human nature. Since sensibilities then were different – and you couldn’t just put a bunch of gore or violence or swearing or sex in the film just because – the moviemakers had to learn to imply – and this was pretty easy to do, because – can you believe it? – the audience actually had functioning brains that could fathom what was being implied.

I don’t know how it happened, or when, but today we have films that take over an hour to set up the personal relationships, history, and science before the story-proper can begin; we have “drama” so dramatic that real people would need to be having heart attacks to look that upset; we have a level of gore that (while visually interesting, especially from a special-effects standpoint) is so unrealistic that even procedural crime-dramas are technically sci-fi/horror now … and we have audiences that are becoming so unaccustomed to bringing their brains to the cinema that I predict we will soon see disclaimers in the credits that explain “these words are not part of the story”.

In In Time, when the main character says that he doesn’t have time to explain how it all came to be, and tells us, basically, just to roll with it and suspend our disbelief … I was thrilled beyond words. It was so nice not to be talked down to! – or to have it assumed that I was stupid, or ignorant, or unimaginative. Say what you might about the simple plots and ambiguous creature effects – the fifties’-sci-fi/horror filmmaker thought I was smarter than the seat I was sitting in … and that goes a long way.