Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Andrew Droz Palermo
Writer: Andrew Droz Palermo, Neima Shahdadi
Producer: Kim Sherman, Matthew Perniciaro, Michael Sherman
Stars: Timothee Chalamet, Kiernan Shipka, Grant Bowler, Elizabeth Reaser
Two sheltered siblings with a secret supernatural ability become separated when tragedy tears apart their isolated family farm.
At first glance, Zac and Eva appear to live an average life of typical teens coming of age on a remote country farm. Days consist of corralling chickens, pitchforking hay, and scrubbing clothes on a washboard. Nights are occupied by stargazing and wonderment regarding what might exist in the outside world. For surrounding the family farm is an enormous, impenetrable wooden wall. Whether it exists to keep interlopers out or Zac and Eva in is only the first mystery of “One & Two.”
Zac and Eva have a very unique talent: a supernatural ability making them far different from ordinary children. Except the fearful understanding of their father Daniel leads him to believe that the more they use it, the more their seizure-afflicted mother Elizabeth suffers.
Eva isn’t certain that is true. Reaching an age where blindly followed wisdom of a perhaps misguided parent meets more resistance than respect, Eva cannot help but continue exploring the strange power on her own, no matter if her father disapproves and her brother no longer wishes to join her. But when indulging in that independent spirit coincides with a terrible tragedy, a rift is created at home that breaks everyone’s bonds, leaving the teens to question their place in the family, as well as within the world.
While Zac and Eva’s power is at the center of “One & Two,” it isn’t the movie’s heart. That “One & Two” even has a slightly supernatural spin is possibly a hindrance. Science-fiction fans might be given a false impression of the film being something more fantastically surreal than it is while audiences searching for introspective family drama may be turned off by a similar misperception.
“One & Two” is a mood piece. It is the equivalent of filmic escargot in that it moves with the urgency of a you-know-what, yet is flavored as a delicacy for palates seasoned to its patient cinematic style. Movements are long and lingering, from almost imperceptible camera dolly creeps to soft, single notes held for extended periods in the musical score. This is a movie taking its time to accentuate atmosphere first and fashion a nonlinear narrative second.
Characterization comes by way of silent brooding, pursed lips and furrowed brows, and an occasional interior monologue from one of the main players. When the scant script quiets to a whisper, cinematographer turned first-time fiction feature filmmaker Andrew Droz Palermo releases his core quartet of veteran TV supporting actors to carry their arcs through expression and confident subtlety. Timothee Chalamet of “Homeland” and Kiernan Shipka of “Mad Men” rightly receive the bulk of the praise as Zac and Eva. That should not overshadow Grant Bowler’s equal impact as the gruff traditionalist father helming a tight ship based on God, a strong work ethic, and a stronger disciplinary hand.
“One & Two” is mostly a grounded movie about two teens struggling with identity in a way that sees them lashing out against a strict parent who isolates them for possibly irrational reasons. Their ability is more of an incidental MacGuffin, and could be any of a number of catalysts sparking youthful rebellion. The theme is straightforward. It’s the meaning behind it that is more challenging to decipher.
A slow-strolling pace isn’t what hobbles the movie’s stride. Where “One & Two” wanders is in a noncommittal ambiguity taking force from an artful punch by being unsure of how hard to hit. By the film’s finale, the remote farmhouse where the children were raised becomes a confusing symbol of Zac and Eva’s confined upbringing, even though their restrictive lifestyle never crosses a border into outright torment. Paint Daniel as a more physically abusive authority and the tone would have heartbreaking impact. Given the smile-filled memories of mother housed in the same edifice, Zac and Eva’s ultimate revolt leans closer to foolhardy than it does towards courageous.
That won’t be the only itch scratched on the scalp once the story concludes. Important “rules” for how the teens’ ability operates aren’t obvious from the outset, though holes eventually see retroactive paving. (For a while, it doesn’t make sense why Zac and Eva always return through the front door.) Other hooked lines and dots include the level of preexisting exposure Zac and Eva have to the outside world (Eva appears confused when a smoker asks for a light, yet is schooled enough in manners to be conversational and cognizant of respect around others), and a fleshed out origin for the inside one where their family lives (what was Daniel preparing to reveal to his son?).
“One & Two” soars on the wings of its charismatic cast and incants a mildly mesmeric spell through understated sights and sounds. It’s the high volume of up in the air elements surrounding the story making the message murky once everything boomerangs back to the ground.
Review Score: 60