ONE AND TWO Movie Review – Thematically Rich, Beautifully Shot, Expertly Realized
Every so often you come across a movie that is almost impossible to talk about without spoiling what’s great about it. One and Two is one of those types of movies. A dark, deliberately paced drama about a family that is cut off from the world. There’s a lot to unpack in this film: ideas about religion, extremism, growing up, rebelling, the love of siblings. This is a thematically rich film that is beautifully shot and expertly realized. Director Andrew Droz Palermo is making his feature fiction film debut with One and Two. He has worked previously as a director of the documentary Rich Hill and he has also worked as a director of photography on You’re Next a film that made a big splash in the indie and horror film scene in 2011.
The heart and soul of One and Two is in the relationship between Eva and Zac. This sister and brother live on a farm with their mother and father who have agreed to isolate them from the world. Surrounding their farm is a large wooden wall. The family dresses in clothing that could be right out of the 19th century. This family works very hard and the lives of the children, both appear to be teenagers, is tightly controlled. They work, they share meals together, and they sleep. This tight control leads Eva and Zac to venture out at night to play in the woods surrounding their home. It is during these nighttime outings that we begin to understand that Eva and Zac are special, that they share a bond that goes beyond that of sister and brother. They both share an ability. I won’t say what that ability is, but it’s very special and is also the main source of tension between the kids and their father. As Eva and Zac continue to explore their ability, their father becomes more threatening, especially as an illness that their mother has intensifies. That’s all I will say about the plot here. The rest is best discovered as you watch the film.
There’s a lot working for this film. The performances are very strong, the cinematography is gorgeous, and the script is quite good. Lots to highlight here. I’d like to start with Kiernan Shipka. You may recognize Shipka as the actress that brilliantly played Sally Draper in the AMC series Mad Men. Especially in the second half of the series, Shipka was one of my favorite things about Mad Men. She consistently turned in strong performances on that show, and it was fascinating watching her grow into an adolescent and teen version of both Betty and Don Draper — kind of scary when you think about it. In One and Two she plays the younger of the siblings, but the one who is the most rebellious and anxious to test the limits, the stronger willed of the two. Her performance is at once commanding and vulnerable. Timothy Chalamet plays her older brother. We’ve seen Chalamet in last year’s Interstellar (he played the younger version of Casey Affleck) and also Men, Women & Children. Chalamet’s Zac is unsure of his abilities and their meaning and also desperately wants the approval of his father. He has some scenes where he is tormented at the hands of his father that are truly affecting. Some of that is in Grant Bowler’s performance as Eva and Zac’s father. He is incredibly intimidating at times. The mother is played by Elizabeth Reaser who fans of Twilight will recognize as the matriarch of the Cullen family. She also had a couple of appearances in the final season of Mad Men. Bowler and Reaser’s performances are grounded and convincing, but it’s Shipka and Chalamet who steal the show here. You really get a sense of their isolation and curiosity about the outside world.
I mentioned earlier that director Andrew Droz Palermo has previously worked as a director of photography. He didn’t shoot this movie himself, instead working with cinematographer Autumn Durald, another relative newcomer to the feature film world. She has several short credits to her name as well as a couple features, including 2013’s Palo Alto. Durald and Palermo have crafted a very naturalistic, tactile look to One and Two. The film looks as if it was shot using only natural and available light, lending to the feeling that this family’s house and surroundings exist in the past. There is also some underwater work that is spectacular. When it comes to Eva and Zac’s ability, there’s some camera trickery and possibly CGI at play here, but it’s very subtle. The sound design in these moments is also quite well done.
It’s interesting looking at this film in light of what has happened with the most recent Fantastic Four. It appears that Josh Trank and Fox were attempting to tell a dark, realistic version of the Fantastic Four, which has always been at its heart a family story. One and Two actually accomplishes this, but with a subtlety and grace that is absolutely lacking in Trank’s film. I don’t mean to build this film up by tearing down a clearly troubled film, but I feel the comparison is apt. In a world where we have superhero films aplenty, One and Two is an amazing breath of fresh air. Eva and Zac aren’t superheroes. Not yet. Maybe not ever. They’re dealing with a lot of the same issues that superheroes are asked to process, but they’re doing it in a family drama. One and Two manages to capture the innocence, curiosity, and vibrancy of youth all while balancing it with a darker family drama that includes a supernatural element. This is an incredibly difficult balance to strike, but One and Two makes it feel absolutely natural and grounded in reality. It’s definitely worth your time. One and Two premiered at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival and SXSW in March of 2015. It opens theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on August 14. It’s also available for rent via the usual streaming platforms.