Thursday, July 16, 2020

Movie Review: ONLY (2020)

Pandemic films have been around for years, bringing us hit or miss tellings of a world where some sort of viral outbreak ravages the population. Some take this genre and spin it in the horror direction, as seen in the hundreds, if not thousands, of zombie movies out there, while others take a more realistic approach, like Contagion or the film I’ll be talking about today… ONLY.

Released on Netflix in the early days of the current global pandemic, Only tells the story of a mysterious virus that shows up and decimates the female population of Earth. We follow two people, Will and Eva, played by the extremely talented Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton) and Freida Pinto (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), as they self-quarantine in an attempt to stay alive, not just from the virus, but the government as well.

I discovered this one while flipping through the current Top 10 on Netflix, and there it was, sitting at #5, I think. People love to watch things that seem relevant to their surrounds, as I believe both Contagion and V for Vendetta found their ways onto that list recently. And I’m no different. A new pandemic movie seemed like a great choice at the time, mainly because I was morbidly curious about how close to our current state it would be, and even though it wasn’t exactly what we are going through, nor did it dive into the socio-political turmoil, it still felt like a future that was more than possible. A future that, if we as a people aren’t careful, will become our reality.

This is only the second feature film from director Takashi Doscher, following his debut with last year’s Still, and I gotta say, I really liked how he handled character work in this one. This is a smaller, much more contained story than a lot of the other films we see from this genre. Even a film like Contagion, which didn’t have a super wide scope, felt more broad than what we got here with Only. That containment is what I really enjoyed about this film, as it allowed for more time with these two central characters. We get to really live in their shoes and experience what they’re going through, not just within the world, but on a personal level. We see two sides of the same coin, two sides of this vastly changing relationship and how both of these people deal with it in their own ways. And living through a quarantine (although to a lesser extent than they did) gave me a deeper sense of understanding for what may be going through their minds during this trying time.

And I can’t talk about these characters without talking about the actors who portrayed them. Leslie Odom Jr. Is probably most well know as playing Aaron Burr in Hamilton, which was recently released on Disney+ for all to see. However, I haven’t watched Hamilton yet, so I was only vaguely familiar with his work, specifically from his short run in the TV series Person of Interest, and I have to say, I thought he did a great job here. He played a commanding lead, yet still was able to show vulnerability when needed. There’s one particular scene on a rooftop that truly captures the emotion and range he possesses. And the same goes for Freida Pinto. Throughout the film, we bounce from present day to various points during the outbreak, getting a chance to witness where these two characters are, not just physically, but emotionally, and during several of these scenes, Freida is able to showcase her emotional range, from fear, to rage, to utter despair, and beyond. And their chemistry together really worked for me.

Now, there are some definite negatives here that I will dive into. First off, even though the main portion of the story is very contained, the world that’s created is not. There’s this mysterious ash falling from the sky, which contains the virus. Where is it coming from?? Is it supposed to be from the comet that’s briefly and randomly mentioned at the beginning of the film? And then there’s this government ran embryo project, where it seems that they are harvesting the eggs from any surviving women they can find. And by find, I mean kidnap or have kidnapped, as it’s revealed that there’s a bounty of $2 MILLION for any living female brought to them. WHAT!?!? That’s so messed up! It’s a really interesting piece of plot, but is really messed up. And it’s not really dove into, except for a small portion of the film where some people, one of whom is Chandler Riggs from The Walking Dead, are trying to capture Eva for the bounty.

Something else I’m not so sure how I feel about is the portrayal of Will later on in the film. It’s a nice sort of twist from what we see when we start, but we are meant to really like this character and appreciate the lengths to which he has gone to protect Eva and himself. It leads to some fantastic performance moments, but I think it’s almost resolved too quickly. I would have liked to see them dive more into the idea of him unknowingly (or maybe even knowingly) trying to control her. It would have really pushed his character down a different, more interesting path.

All in all, I thought Only was a pretty good movie, one of the better ones from Netflix, especially in this sort of genre. If you’re down for watching a pandemic movie in the midst of a real life pandemic, then I recommend giving this one a watch.

The Merc’s Score: 7/10

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