The prospect of discovering a new filmmaking talent, plus the chance to check out two of my favourite emerging young Hollywood actors, were enough reasons to grab my interest in One & Two. Yet the intriguing premise, good performances, and solid execution, are let down by a script which lacks the edge you’d expect from a coming-of-age indie drama tinged with fantasy elements.
Channeling M. Night Shyamalan’s much underrated The Village, NBC’s hit-and-miss Heroes, and the poetry of Terrence Malick, writer-director Andrew Droz Palermo has crafted an interesting narrative feature debut after several shorts and a documentary, Rich Hill (2014), which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. His predilection for exploring adolescence is evident, and just like his documentary chronicled the troubled lives of three boys in a poor Midwestern town looking for an escape, One & Two follows two young siblings with enclosed lives, aching to explore the wider world.
Whilst Rich Hill dealt with the bleakness of poverty in small-town Middle America, for his first narrative feature Palermo chooses the dystopian setting of an isolated farm in the countryside, where young siblings Zac (Timothée Chalamet) and Eva (Kiernan Shipka) live a seemingly idyllic life with their parents (Grant Bowler, Elizabeth Reaser). Living off the land without electricity, these two teenagers help their father and mother in their respective farmer and housewife roles, spending their leisure time swimming in a nearby pond.
When darkness falls, however, Eva drags Zac outside for some nocturnal wanders, revealing their secret: they both possess the ability to teleport. But is it a gift or a curse? Sure, it seems all fun and games when they carelessly play around in the fields at night, chasing each other, but when their stern father smokes them out, it becomes clear how their lives aren’t as idyllic as it seems. The kids can’t actually teleport through solid matter, hence why they need open windows in order to ‘zap’ themselves outside of the house, and why their angry father’s punishment is to pin them to their bedroom walls by hammering the edges of their clothes with nails.
It’s obvious then how the kids’ ability isn’t a secret but more of an unspoken taboo that needs to be kept under wraps. Whilst the slightly older Zac seems to be largely content with the life they lead, claiming how all they could possibly need is right there at home, Eva can’t help but indulge her rebellious nature and it leads to more trouble. After all, who wouldn’t be curious about why they’re confined within high walls, no matter how big the playground is? The situation precipitates as the kids’ loving mother falls gravely ill, putting things in a different perspective as she suffers seizures that seem connected to their abilities, and we sense their father subconsciously blaming them for his wife’s illness.
This is not a spoiler as things are shown in the trailer; plus, early in the film, during one of their after sunset trips, the siblings notice in the far distance the trail of a flying object in the sky, immediately prompting a questioning of the film’s time period. And so it’s no surprise when Eva manages to make it beyond the walls and we get confirmation that One & Two is taking place in the present day.
The main issue with One & Two lies with its vagueness; an element that, when handled well, can become an excellent narrative tool. Here, it unfortunately winds up hurting the story. When Zac finally hears his father mumbling something about their family’s history, it feels like too little too late. The same can be said for Eva’s trip to the outside world, where there’s lost potential in exploring the idea of someone new to modern life… alas, we only get glimpses of what could’ve been. For a 90-minute film this actually feels more like an upmarket TV pilot, so it’s tempting to say One & Two’s premise could’ve done with the breathing room a small-screen drama would allow.
Surely our two young leads know a thing or two about the benefits of the TV medium, having both gotten their breaks there. Shipka practically grew up before our eyes on the set of AMC’s Mad Men, and it’s likely her casting wasn’t just a coincidence because Eva has a similar curiosity and rebellious nature to teenager Sally Draper. The young actress convinces in her portrayal of Eva’s determination to live her life to the fullest; ditto Chalamet, whom fans of Showtime’s Homeland might recognise from season two. The now 20-year-old perfectly captures Zac’s torn personality and loving nature, confirming his breakout star potential, so here’s to hope we’ll see him in more leading roles (he recently played Matthew McConaughey’s son in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, incidentally).
Andrew Droz Palermo is undoubtedly a talent to watch, and his previous experience as the Director of Photography for slick-looking films like You’re Next (2011) is evident… though he didn’t shoot this movie by himself. Instead, he found a great collaborator in Autumn Durald, the emerging cinematographer behind Gia Coppola’s debut Palo Alto (2013) and Arcade Fire’s documentary The Reflektor Tapes (2015). One & Two is predictably very pleasing to the eye, and the camera beautifully tells its story with fluid motions that do justice to the beautiful landscapes.
However, it’s in the scripting department that the film (co-written by Palermo with Neima Shahdadi) falls short, in terms of plotting and character development. It just feels undercooked and doesn’t live up to its potential, although as an acolyte of indie cinema and new talent I don’t think One & Two’s a waste of anybody’s time.
Cast & Crewdirector: Andrew Droz Palermo.
writers: Andrew Droz Palermo & Neima Shahdadi.
starring: Kiernan Shipka, Timothée Chalamet, Elizabeth Reaser & Grant Bowler.