There’s something about a real-world global pandemic that takes some of the “fun” out of such dystopian tales on the big screen.
But “Only” is too good to dismiss, just escapist enough to make us forget “Hell, I could tune in to CNN if I wanted to see this.”
It’s a story told out of order, flashbacks scattered through a tale that begins with the grim fatalism of a voice-over narration that asks, “Do you forgive me?”
A comet, Covino, skipped by the Earth. What looked like snow but was more like nuclear fallout rained down. And people got sick. Women? They started dying.
Freida Pinto plays the aptly-named Eva, a survivor. Leslie Odom, Jr. is Will, her husband and protector.
We’re introduced to them just as soldiers, roll up wearing gas masks, pounding on their door. They’re looking for a woman searching based on a tip.
Names on the lease are parsed, the apartment — UV lights and plastic sheeting “sealing” it off from the contagion — is tossed. But the officer in charge (we never see him) lets his humanity slip through the mask.
“I’m not taking a sick one,” he says to Will, telling him and us that “he knows” where she’s hidden. “I know what they do with the sick ones.”
They are on their own, welcome to spend their remaining hours/days together, duct-taping her chest, covering her head and putting on makeup to simulate a five o’clock shadow so that they can have “one last cooked meal” together as they head out on the run.
Vandalized billboards suggest the length of time this pandemic has been around, urging citizens to “Get Tested” for “The Embryo Project.”
There are rewards for “healthy women.” Draconian measures to procure them are official policy. Will has listened to Eva’s doctor dad, who had very specific intructions, “rules” that might let them survive. Will is protecting them both from the virus as long as possible. He is set on defending her by any means necessary.
Writer-director Takashi Doscher (“Still” was his.) bathes this hellish future-present in the greys and blues of doom, eternal winter.
He’s mashed up “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Children of Men” and the recent Casey Affleck dystopia “Light of My Life” in creating this bleak landscape where the end of the human race is within sight.
“Science,” glimpsed on TV and online, is both the hope for salvation and a palpable threat. Religious extremists are violently resisting the scientific solution dictated from on high.
Eva and Will? They’re trying not to fight, trying to not think about The Worst, struggling to stay on the same page as a couple — him trying to protect her, her wondering if there’s any point to that now, any point at all.
Will drifts from the reassuring “This’ll be over in a few weeks” to “I’m waiting for you to wake up and realize that ‘this’ is ‘life’ now.”
Yes, it’s derivative, with story beats from every sci-fi dystopia of recent vintage — “The Road,” “28 Days Later,” and especially “Light of My Life.”
It’s not the “Only” movie to follow this arc, to deliver one expected scene after another. But it is a sci-fi parable with performances that click and situations — tried and true as they are — that pop. We can only hope that “It’s only a movie” will be the way we look back on it.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Freida Pinto, Lesley Odom Jr.
Credits: Written and directed by Takashi Doscher. A Vertical release.
Running time: 1:37