Lots of times I like the idea of a movie better than the movie, or get frustrated with a director that doesn’t tell the story the way I want it to be told. Let’s face it, I’m an entitled viewer. After years programming film festivals and now covering indie film for AMFM, as well as making my own films, it’s hard to get out of my own head. That’s just a short intro to acknowledge that I often judge films against what they could have been, rather than how effectively the filmmakers accomplish what they set out to do.
And that’s my central issue with ONE & TWO, the new SciFi/Supernatural drama from Andrew Droz Palermo starring Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka. In an isolated ‘The Village’-like existence, a brother and sister develop the power to teleport short distances. Their exploration of their abilities upsets the carefully structured and protected life on the farmhouse, and their parents desperately try to maintain the family’s quarantine from the outside world. When Eva (Shipka) gets beyond the giant wall she discovers the modern world, a world her parents never wanted her to see.
“It was something that I thought allowed us in to talk about the familial issues in a way that was interesting,” says Palermo about Evan and her brother Zac’s teleportation abilities, “to me it was more metaphorical than it is real.” There is a bit of backstory at the opening of the film, that more people had lived in this community at one time, but then as these powers started to develop, they left. Children died, went missing. Part of the mystery is that only the children have it, so it is not inherited by their parents.
“For me what the powers represent is something more metaphorical about the children’s bond,” the director says, “they have this thing and through that bond this power arose. It is sort of the manifestation of that bond.” It is never explained where the power came from, or why the parents don’t have it, the powers work on many levels. “There are limitations in our minds that maybe there aren’t in the children’s minds,” says Reaser, “and their need to go from one place to the other, to go somewhere else.”
It’s also a delicate balance between the fully developed rules that govern the powers and the community, and what to reveal to the audience (and what the parents reveal to the children) and even what the director reveals to the actors. “I think Andrew didn’t spell it all out for us,” says Reaser, “a lot of that you have to do on your own as an actor.” For Palermo, it was important to understand the powers and what they might be, to answer questions from actors, and especially production design. “I wanted to be able to answer those questions, tell them what I thought,” the director says, “it was always open to interpretation for me, and I was willing to bend some of the things.” But even so, the details of that were never intended to be very accessible to the audience. “It’s definitely left on the outside of the film,” he says, “the films I like you’re just sort of dropped into… the movie’s already happening, the character’s happening. I want it to feel alive. So filling all that out was extremely boring to me.”
I brought this up to Palermo, who said there were many people at the film’s world premiere in Berlin who wanted to know what was next for the characters. “It feels right to end it where it does to me,” he explains, “I don’t know that it could have gone on any further, in the context of this film.” He is open to the idea of continuing the story in a sequel, although he feels like a prequel might be more interesting. “It’s such a small intimate film,” Palermo says of ONE & TWO, “that when you open it up, it has so many possibilities, I think that a lot of what I like in this film would have to be very different in the next film.”
Ultimately, ONE & TWO is not an effective SciFi film because it does not pay off the premise. As an indie drama, a pseudo-period one even, it is full of great characters, in rich conflict, but again, it only feels two-thirds realized. Just as the world is really coming together, the film ends. If the world weren’t so evocative, maybe I wouldn’t mind, but it seems such a waste to set up such a lush foundation and not let the audience fully enjoy it. The story the film tells is too small for the world created, too slight. That being said, the film is certainly worth checking out, for Shipka’s performance alone, as it is such a joy to see an actress we’ve watched grow up literally before our eyes inhabit a new life and new circumstance.
ONE & TWO world premiered at Berlin before making its US Premiere at SXSW. Upcoming screenings have yet to be announced, but you can follow them on their facebook page.