Two siblings discover a supernatural escape from a troubled home, but find their bond tested when reality threatens to tear their family apart. (logline)
Answers are boring. We as audiences are trained to watch films with the expectation of a clear, precise narrative that will guide us to an understood and obvious conclusion. Rare are the films that intentionally leave questions unanswered, characters still in flux, and stories unresolved. Andrew Droz Palermo’s (Rich Hill) lyrical, narrative feature debut, One and Two, is that rare film that understands the tedium of cinematic context and resolution. Palermo and his team play with our expectations by incorporating broad genre tropes into what is essentially a character-driven, poetic mood piece that asks more questions than it feels the need to answer.
The film stars the angelic Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) and Timothee Chalamet (Interstellar) as two mysterious siblings hoarded away in a pastoral farmhouse by their violent, domineering father (Grant Bowler) and sickly, frightened mother (Elizabeth Reaser). The farm operates without electricity and the only mode of transportation is by horse and buggy. These early scenes lead one to believe the film is a period piece about a lonely, quiet pioneer family and their day-to-day struggles. While this is not entirely inaccurate, the film slowly reveals itself to have much more unconventional ideas on its mind. The true nature of the siblings is revealed fairly early in the film, but since secrets are part of its allure, no specifics will be stated in this review. We also soon learn that an enormous, hundred foot-tall barricade circles the area in which they live. Who built this barricade, and why? To keep dangers in, or out?
Palermo’s direction is consistently enigmatic. It’s a delicate balance keeping the film mysterious, yet grounded, without ever really providing much background or framework. He thrusts the audience into this odd world and trusts them not to look for, or accept, an easy way out. The dialogue and performances, mostly sparse and simple, do just enough to keep the film compelling and poetic, without becoming pretentious. Cinematographer Autumn Cheyenne Durald is wise to capture this world in a very hazy, painterly way. It doesn’t set the film up for the turns that it eventually takes, which makes for a more compelling and surprising experience.
One and Two is attempting to blend superhero and fairy-tale mythology with lyrical and magical realism. At times, the film may feel more like a tonal and narrative experiment than a cohesive story, but by the end it’s all just too sincere in its emotional core to be merely an exercise in style. Again, this is a very challenging film that is not interested in clarity or simple explanations. The primary themes of love between siblings and parental fear of abandonment justifiably receive more attention from the filmmakers than the tired, genre explanations to which we’ve grown accustomed. This is a film that refuses to be classified, which may prove detrimental to its commercial prospects, but is actually what makes the film unique and thoroughly engrossing.