The richly shot opening images of Andrew Droz Palermo’s debut feature hold much promise. Sadly, One and Two doesn’t go on to deliver. From murky depths, light penetrates a body of water which is pierced by two figures. A boy and girl contemplate the stunning reflection of a twilight sky playing on its surface. The sound of birds and crickets is backed by a whimsical score that echoes and reverberates. Seen in long shot, the boy and girl, siblings Zac (Timothée Chalamet) and Eva (Kiernan Shipka), run across a field in front of a fenced forest. Full of intrigue and mystery, this opening sequence sets up an interesting premise which dully travels from nowhere to nowhere, bogged down by loose direction, an underdeveloped script and little more than surface characterisation.
Located in the head-scratching realm of The Tree of Life or The Village, One and Two is frequently a delight to behold, beautifully framed throughout by Autumn Durald. It features a family of four eking out an isolated, pastoral existence behind the aforementioned wall. Is the barrier there to imprison or protect? Hard to say. A sickly mother (Elizabeth Reaser) suffers spontaneous fits, a God-fearing authoritarian father (Grant Bowler) drills a strict daily routine in an attempt to contain his children, fearful of the supernatural ability they possess to teleport from one puff of smoke to another. It’s a long way from 2.4 kids and any civilisation at all. What causes the mother’s attacks? |And is she the source of her offspring’s powers? How is the austere life they have chosen in any way sustainable? With little more than allusion to explain the bigger picture and softly spoken internal monologues delivered as narrative explanation, Palermo leaves a viewer bashing their head against a wall, let alone scratching it.
As much as we scrunch up our eyes and concentrate, making the jump through time and space to some kind of understanding is a challenge without Zac and Eva’s gift. Why, if they use their talents to escape to lay in fields and swim at night, do they not make the jump across the wall to escape? The dots are left unconnected. An unnecessarily cruel punishment and tragic turn of events sees One and Two degenerate into much darker territory. This goes some way to justifying Zac’s antipathy towards his father but the conflict is laboured, never reaching the climax or catharsis to which it strives. Palermo’s first directorial attempt is a disappointing missed opportunity; a film that is visually captivating but frustratingly devoid of any real substance, clarity or emotional investment.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens