Interview: Dennis Iliadis (Director – ‘+1’)

+1‘ is a  supernatural thriller in which three college friends go to the biggest party of the year, each looking for something different: love, sex and a simple human connection. When a mysterious phenomenon disrupts the party, it lights a fuse on what will become the strangest night anyone has ever seen. As the three friends struggle to find what they’re looking for, the party quickly descends into a chaos that challenges if they can stay friends or if they can even stay alive.

Anticipating the theatrical release of ‘+1‘ we spoke with Director Dennis Iliadis about the films genre roots, top-flight DP collaborator Mihai Malaimare Jr., its unqiue marketing strategies and more.

‘+1’ is NOW PLAYING in NYC @ IFC Center & VOD Platforms

What is it about high-concept, genre filmmaking that is appealing to you?
I like these kinds of films a lot because they all take characters, put them through extreme situations, and watch them react. And there’s no time to sit back and discuss, there’s no time to have flab or fat. And I love what genre gives us, which is a very dynamic and compressed arc, where there’s no time for bullshit.

When did you start thinking up the idea? Was there a specific place it came from?
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of, what would happen if you got to meet yourself?  And I also found the idea interesting because of many disastrous events in my earlier love life—things where you fuck things up so bad that you wish you could take those twenty minutes back and reshuffle them and do things differently, even if that means being very controlling and manipulative. It was a very intellectual sort of idea, but it was also about what happens when this idea is saturated by very intense personal motives.

+1The film delays the violence until late in third act. It lets the situation and atmosphere pull the viewer through until then. What made you decide to structure the film that way?
This movie is very much about the fear of coinciding with yourself, rather than a movie that’s about, okay, there are doubles, they start fighting and everything goes crazy. It was very much about developing each character’s storyline and predicament, getting into their angst and what they really wanted to achieve that night—then setting up this crazy premise, in a very compressed time-frame, and in a super-charged environment. And that’s very antithetical. It’s crazy to take such a brainy idea and throw it on a teen house party. And then we see how the characters in this supercharged environment react to this situation. And by having developed those threads, you’re seeing very different reactions, and I think that’s interesting. Until quite late in the movie, you’re not sure where it’s going to go—how “horror” this movie’s going to become. It was very much about establishing the characters, establishing their needs, their desires, bringing this situation in, and watching it boil in very different ways.

So would you describe this as a horror movie?
I don’t think it’s a horror movie at all. I mean, there’s always some horror in my movies. In me too, I guess. But no, to me this is a science fiction thriller. But horror can come in any genre, I think, and that’s what I like. I was ready to go into horror if the story took me there, and it did.

You talk about setting the story at a teen house party. Did you ever have any reservations about that?
I mean it was a huge risk. Because you’re taking something super brainy, and you’re wrapping it around something very fun, raunchy, and messy. It would be easier to take that idea and say, “I’m going to do it at a spy convention, or at a family reunion.” There would be time for people to process things, and it just wouldn’t be so busy. At the same time, it’s great to take that idea, and put it in a very emotionally wrought environment. I really love the idea of taking such a brainy concept and putting it somewhere where there’s no time to stop and think. Everyone’s hormones are boiling, insecurities and desires are in the red, and you watch it become more of a roller coaster ride rather than just a brainy movie. And I loved that the setting could take this project out of the stuffy elements of it—really throw it in an emotional sort of battleground.

+1In supernatural event movies like this, characters often have a sort of group reaction. But here, they kind of go their separate ways. How did you go about carving out different arcs for each character?
By developing the characters a lot, and what their desires and psychology are, then you see how they would go in different directions. For instance, the character Allison, who sort of doesn’t connect to people, gets a chance to interact with herself, and that brings her into some harmony. David becomes a very cold, manipulative character, who winds up doing something terrible, but at the same time, he does it in the name of love. And then for the others, who just learn of the situation quite late in the movie, it becomes more about, okay, these people are us, but they’re saying the things we do, so they’re the enemy. I think that’s an interesting idea, the fear of the other—and how in the name of that fear, it becomes irrelevant if that other person looks like you; they just become the enemy.

How difficult was it to shoot a film where there are so many doppelgangers, so many characters physically interacting with their exact doubles?
It was very hard technically. We’ve seen movies with doubles, but camera movement and physical interaction have never been done before like they are here. There have never been face replacements and compositions with such physical interaction, especially in the big pool-house sequence near the end. So we’re very lucky that Lola VFX came on board—they’ve done ‘Benajamin Button’ and ‘The Social Network,’ and they’ve taken the art of face replacement VFX to a new level. We tried things that theoretically weren’t possible.

Your DP, Mihai Malaimare Jr., is very accomplished – he shot Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master.’ What did he bring to the project?
He’s an amazing DP, an amazing artist. This was a project where you had a very difficult technical task, and at the same time your canvas needed to have this super energy. All of the characters in the background needed to be in a sort of a hedonist, ecstatic state at all times. And Mihai could really be a part of the team and go with the flow and keep up that energy. It’s very hard to have that many people and keep that energy up. Every one of us had to really encourage a certain amount of craziness. And it was interesting to revisit elements of the archetypal teen movie in a new light. We really enjoyed that. We watched a lot of American classic teen movies, all of John Hughes, and a lot of others.

+1What does the film have in common with some of those classic teen movies, and what are some areas where it is different?
The movie takes a great foundation, where the emotions are raw, the desires are strong, and the characters will really go the extra stretch for what they want. And then the film takes them a step further. A lot of teen American movies never explore a darker side. We had the freedom. We could do the sacrilege of making things darker than usual.

In general, it’s interesting to hear you name John Hughes and classic teen movies as an influence.
Those movies were very human and non-cynical. I hate cynicism in movies. The John Hughes movies, especially, really spend time with their characters. And they would usually escalate at a party, or somewhere where it was like, okay, this is it, this is where things are either make or break.

+1In general, how have audiences reacted to the film?
It’s been great. But the biggest concern has been that the film feels authentic to our target audience—sixteen to about twenty-five. We screened this movie a lot while we were editing, and it was very important to get the seal of approval from that group. And we got it big time. With different ages, overall it’s been very positive. But some people don’t react well to the combination of raunchiness and braininess.

Why do you think that is?
It’s hard to process and combine information, I think. Sometimes there is genre conditioning, where you expect things in a given way. It was a big risk to ask people to really pay attention in a movie that’s soaked with booze and sexuality, and at the same time high concept sci-fi is going on. Some people had a bit of trouble with that. They had a hard time watching all this craziness and at the same time following a quite challenging and complicated plot, where there are timelines and time loops, and weird repetitions where tiny details have huge importance.

So what are some of the strategies you’ve been using to market the film and get audiences on board?
Initially we wanted to surprise people. But I don’t think you want to be surprising people too much. We went to South by Southwest without saying what the plot was. We just said it’s about three friends who go to a party, and a serious phenomenon happens, and everything goes crazy. But I think you need to give the audience that extra information—that they’re going to be watching a party movie with teens in danger, but at the same time it’s much more: It’s gong to be a movie with narrative complexity. And I think the moment we revealed that, and the trailer came out, that was the wiser approach. Because in this movie, everything’s so busy and cluttered and there’s so much going on. So I think you really need to define what you’re doing.

– Interview Conducted, Transcribed & Edited (On Site) by David Teich

+1

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