2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Only’

April 27, 2019

by Carla Hay

Only
Freida Pinto and Leslie Odom Jr. in “Only” (Photo by Sean Stiegemeier)

“Only”

Directed by Takashi Doscher

World premiere at Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

Does the world need another bleak post-apocalyptic movie? Not if it’s as disappointing as this one. The above-average performances of Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”) and Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”) are the main reasons to see “Only,” a depressing drama with unrelenting emotional claustrophobia that can’t quite mask some of the film’s most glaring and annoying plot holes. Odom and Pinto play Will and Eva, two lovers who have quarantined themselves in an apartment in an unnamed U.S. city during a mysterious plague. From the opening scene, there’s a sense that Eva is somehow in danger: She frantically hides in a secret crawlspace in the apartment when men wearing hazmat suits suddenly enter the home to search it and interrogate Will, who lies to them by telling them that he lives alone.

In the film’s numerous flashbacks that might confuse some viewers, it’s revealed that the plague started when ash began to fall all over the world like a steady snowstorm, and females who are exposed to the ash develop a strange illness that makes them bleed near their ears, go into convulsions, then die within a matter of hours. Eva has managed to avoid this contagious disease by being in the apartment when the ash started to fall.

But in a major plot disconnect, a flashback scene shows her to be completely exposed in a hospital’s emergency ward, where Will and Eva have taken Eva’s roommate Carolyn (played by Tia Hendricks), who was caught outside when the ash started to fall. While at the hospital, which is filled with patients and their loved ones covered in the mysterious ash, Will figures out that only females are getting sick from the ash. In a “too good to be true” coincidence, he sees an “Authorized Personnel Only” door, which happens to contain two hazmat suits that he and Eva can wear when they flee the hospital to go back home and quarantine themselves. Never mind that Will and Eva have already been exposed to the deadly ash when they went outside to travel to the hospital while the ash is in the air, and they were in a hospital filled with people and things covered with the ash.

It’s not a spoiler to reveal this ludicrous part of the storyline because the entire movie relies on the premise that Eva has avoided exposure to the ash for at least 400 days, which contradicts the fact that she was exposed early on during the plague at the hospital. The entire hospital scene and the Carolyn character are completely unnecessary, since Will and Eva could have found out the cause of the plague and who was at risk by staying home and watching the news. It’s one of the movie’s several plot holes that will leave viewers shaking their heads in dismay at how “Only” writer/director Takashi Doscher sabotaged his own script.

Later in the movie, it’s revealed that because the plague has almost wiped out the world’s population of women and girls, and many of the surviving women who can get pregnant end up having miscarriages, the U.S. government has put up a $2 million bounty for anyone who can find a woman who can give birth to a child. However, since the government is doing scientific experiments on surviving women who are found, there’s little incentive for any of the remaining women like Eva to give themselves up.

The movie’s flashback scenes show that Will and Eva had a happy relationship before the plague. But after the plague, their relationship has become strained because Will has become so paranoid about Eva being discovered and getting infected, that he’s kept her a virtual prisoner in their home, and she has developed a simmering resentment over it. It’s a plot concept that could have been mined for some deep and emotional insight into male/female relationships and power struggles in society (something that “The Handmaid’s Tale” does so well), but “Only” jumps back and forth too much in the story’s timeline, which takes away from what could have been a more cohesive movie.

After Will and Eva have decided to quarantine themselves, the movie goes to great lengths to show us how Will dictates much of what Eva can and can’t do because he’s so afraid of Eva being discovered and getting infected. For example, he gets upset when she uses a cell phone or computer because he doesn’t want her technology activities to be traced. But then another part of the story reveals that Will allows Eva to communicate with the outside world in an Internet chat room with other female survivors, who also send email to the couple. Even though Eva is using an alias, we’re supposed to believe that paranoid Will doesn’t know that this type of Internet activity can still be traced. It’s a contradiction that’s almost laughable if this weren’t such a downbeat movie.

By the time viewers see that Eva (who’s disguised as a man) and Will have made a trip outside to get food, the story veers into a random fugitive thriller with Will and Eva trying to hide from a father and son (played by Jayson Warner Smith and Chandler Riggs), who are would-be bounty hunters. The problem is that the movie tries hard to convince viewers how Eva has been hidden for over a year, but Eva and Will make some decisions both in and outside their home that make it hard to believe that their secret hadn’t been discovered sooner. Their home is meticulously protected in a way that shows their long-term quarantine gave them plenty of time to think about ways to safeguard their home, yet Eva’s “disguise” as a man is so poorly thought-out that it’s a glaring contradiction. (It’s revealed in the last 15 minutes of the film why Eva is outside wearing unprotected clothes when she and Will leave their home to get food.)

Pinto and Odom have a few scenes where they adeptly show the emotional toll that the quarantine has taken on their relationship, but not even the best actors in the world can save this problematic and ultimately unsatisfying script.

UPDATE: Vertical Entertainment will release “Only” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on March 6, 2020.