Director: Andrew Droz Palermo
1h 30min | Drama, Fantasy, Thriller | 29 January 2016 (UK)
This strange little film from director Andrew Droz Palermo comes off as a mix of X-Men, M. Night Shymalan’s The Village, and Carrie, with a story focusing on a superpowered pair of siblings who have been kept isolated in their God-fearing father’s rural clapboard house all of their lives. Film history is littered with stories built around parent’s living in fear of their children’s burgeoning adulthood and awakening sexuality, with more than a few exploring this via allegorical plots involving the imprisonment of youths in isolated cultish homesteads or the discriminatory treatment of those developing superpowers: Brian de Palma’s Carrie effectively does both. Droz Palermo’s film treads in similar waters, but never quite marshals its elements into an effective punch though.
One & Two’s setting is a rural family farm in an uncertain time period (though the accents and contrails of a high altitude airliner suggest present day USA), and in this isolated world young teen siblings Zac (Timothée Chalamet) and Eva (Kiernan Shipka) live under the constant watch of their father Daniel (Grant Bowler), a figure who we quickly see rules with strict routine and discipline. He seems a stern, God-fearing man, though the exact strand of his religion isn’t mentioned. The clothes and clapboard house seem out of another era, evoking the Amish dictates about living in the present. Seeing the children larking about in the spacious fields around the house, it is clear that their mother Elizabeth (Elizabeth Reaser) is the more nurturing and sympathetic figure of the two parents.
Droz Palermo’ s does at least set us up with a quite interesting scenario from the off. The actual image we first see on screen is the large wooden wall, over ten feet high, that cuts off the fields a few hundred feet from the house, surrounding the homestead entirely. It’s a striking, eerie image, and Droz Palermo and his FP make further effective use of the lush rural Americana surrounding the fence, along with some night scenes in the house where there is only lamplight to illuminate. Presumably these dreamy visuals are supposed to invoke the perspective of the young children and convey the idea that their imaginations are starting to outgrow their imprisonment.
No on screen text or backstory-focused voiceover really offers us any guidance to what this family is doing here or where/when this place is, so when we see Zac and Eva teleporting when their parent’s backs are turned, short distances at first, then further and further, it isn’t clear why they can do this or how long they have been experimenting with these abilities. All that is clear is that this gift, this mutual secret, is something they are excited by, its probably the only thing they can call theirs in their largely sterile world. But Droz Palermo introduces more mysteries into the mix: their mother’s mysterious illness – she suffers from convulsions- seems to increase in tune with the children teleporting. At one point, after teleporting herself, Eva sees a dead bird nearby: did her powers cause this? Seemingly only able to speak about his children’s uniqueness in a roundabout way – in angrily hushed tones with his wife – Daniel when pressed finally narrates to an angry Zac a detail-light story implying these genetic quirks go back generations, with disturbing hints about what was done to deal with them.
The cast are fine and the setting quite atmospheric, but one problem with One and Two is that after so much “show” you really start hungering for some “tell”; and this never really comes. Eschewing the high-octane superhero action of the X-Men films, Droz Palermo puts forward a character-based and slow- burning mystery that goes light on the VFX, but the film doesn’t quite have the scripting (writers: Andrew Droz Palermo, Neima Shahdadi) to entirely deliver the payoff for that approach, either in terms of delivering enough compelling revelations or sufficiently engaging characters. This might not matter so much if the film could immerse you via its visuals, but despite some flourishes, this film can’t reach the kind of poetic screen language of a Terrence Malick film. It ends up falling between a whole bunch of stools and can’t teleport out of it.