The supernatural is often a horror element that is utilized to instill fear in audiences around the world. All humans fear the unknown to some capacity, making it a strong sub-genre that can be produced on a manageable budget. However, it isn't generally associated with the drama genre, which is exactly what writer/director Andrew Droz Palermo and co-writer Neima Shahdadi have created. Before the lights dimmed at one of the official SXSW venues, Palermo spoke of how personal and important this film is to him, as it reflects upon a piece of his life. One & Two makes a bold statement with a tale about a pair of siblings.
Eva (Kiernan Shipka) and Zac (Timothée Chalamet) are siblings who have supernatural abilities. They use them in a playful manner in order to escape from the worries of a troubled and isolated home. However, their bond is tested when reality threatens to tear their family apart. With both external and internal factors at work, they must overcome numerous obstacles if they hope to live the life that they have always dreamed of.
One & Two features a brother and sister who have been essentially isolated from society. Their mother (Elizabeth Reaser), father (Grant Bowler), and each other are all that they have. However, there is a great amount of tension within this household, yet it's never spoken of. Eva and Zac disobey their father by sneaking out of the house late at night and playing with their supernatural abilities. It's on one of these nights that Eva expresses her curiosity about the outside world, and wanting to experience it all. Zac seems a bit more hesitant. As the tension continues to escalate with their father, a distance begins to progressively grow between them. This lends itself to a story that largely discusses the bond between siblings, as they fight to keep their family together. However, their father questions whether Zac and Eva's supernatural abilities are a gift, or against God's design. One & Two speaks in large volumes about outcasts in society, and the discrimination that they face even from family members. It's a truly fascinating, yet heartbreaking display to witness a man being torn apart at the seams, only to end up punishing his family.
Palermo and Shahdadi's screenplay is so incredibly vague, that you're guaranteed to leave with a long list of unanswered questions. While leaving some elements to the audience's interpretation is fine, One & Two relies on this a bit too much. Ultimately, we're left with a story that feels like it's missing more than a few pieces of the puzzle. While the audience is hardly informed of what Eva and Zac's supernatural abilities are capable of, it's the gaping holes left in character disposition that truly hinder the film. There are some attempts made to provide some backstory, although it's hardly satisfactory. These gaps begin to feel more like missed opportunities than they do mysterious story elements. One & Two's second half falls victim to plot progressions that make little sense, although when Palermo and Shahdadi return back to the bond of these siblings, the film manages to dig its way out of the hole. It's just a shame that it can't quite manage to maintain a consistently engaging form of storytelling.
Perhaps the biggest theme being utilized is that of fear. Every character within this family has a clear fear that resonates with the audience. However, these fears ultimately lead these characters to act in foolish ways that often have major consequences. Society's fear of those that are different is clear, as these two siblings are treated as utter outcasts. This can even be seen in the perspective of their father, as they are repeatedly abused psychologically and physically. Perhaps this is a message made concisely through the motif of a single nail that remains visible in the wall of one of their bedrooms. It's truly a heart-pounding journey that captivates its viewers. If the final five minutes don't move you in the slightest, then you have a heart of stone. One & Two may be flawed, but it exposes the world to a new story that ultimately feels so incredibly relevant and personal, yet universal at the same time.
While Palermo may be relatively new to the director's seat, he is better known for his work as a cinematographer. Having worked on horror features such as You're Next and V/H/S, he has a clear understanding of gritty filmmaking. One & Two tells a very different story, but still utilizes a fairly dark atmosphere. Shadows are heavily utilized, as there are often gradients throughout the frame that feel as if they're bleeding off of the screen. Even with working on a relatively small budget, Palermo manages to make the supernatural visual effects look rather good. The constant teleportation tricks are convincing, allowing for the fantastical elements to truly blend into the picture's tone.
There will inevitably be comparisons to M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, but this is a much more competent film. While its intentional ambiguity is a bit frustrating, the characters are complex and well-crafted. The motif of fear and how that affects all supposed outcasts of society is clear and impactful. The supernatural elements largely act as more of a backdrop than a serious part of the film, which audiences will either support or entirely reject. Even so, the bond between siblings clearly holds a great amount of importance to writer/director Andrew Droz Palermo, which comes across in this subtle drama. One & Two slowly builds to a relatively captivating look at the seemingly unbreakable bond of family. Recommended.
One & Two played at SXSW Film Festival 2015 on March 14th, March 15th, and March 18th.