Here’s something to think about: Is it good or bad timing right now to release a post-apocalyptic thriller about a killer virus?
The question is begged by Only, the sophomore feature from writer-director Takashi Doscher (Still), starring Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) and Leslie Odom Jr. (from the original Broadway cast of Hamilton) as a couple desperately attempting to survive a fatal plague triggered by a comet passing near Earth. That the virus affects only women should provide scant comfort to male moviegoers, assuming they’re willing to venture out to see the film in a public theater.
Reminiscent of scores of previous similarly themed sci-fi efforts (1984’s Night of the Comet being an obvious example, although comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale can’t be avoided as well), Only proves more intent on establishing an ominous mood than providing thrills. Muted and restrained to the point of tedium, the pic offers little that’s distinctive to set it apart.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have its virtues, most notably the strong performances by the two leads. They play Eva and Will, who are hiding out in their heavily sealed and sanitized apartment after the outbreak. Eva is one of the few women to have survived the deadly virus, but infection is not the only danger. Those women who are still alive are being hunted down by the authorities so they can be used to repopulate the planet as part of a campaign dubbed “The Embryo Project.”
The film concentrates on the relationship between the couple, which, not surprisingly as a result of their constrained and fraught circumstances, has started to fray. Will has becoming so controlling in his efforts to protect Eva that she starts to rebel, demanding that they take the risk of venturing out in public. This leads to such perilous activities as their going to a diner for some breakfast (no eggs are available, the owner informs them; apparently, the plague has afflicted chickens as well), with Eva not-to-convincingly attempting to look male by duct-taping her breasts and wearing a pullover hat over much of her face. During their travels, they run into a character played by Chandler Riggs, who, considering his many years as a regular on The Walking Dead, you’d think would want to avoid further apocalyptic scenarios.
The story is told non-chronologically, leading to both confusion and a lack of narrative momentum. While some individual episodes resonate strongly, such as when soldiers invade Will and Eva’s apartment in search of any women, the effectiveness of others is derailed by their out-of-order placement. A flashback taking place in the immediate aftermath of the comet, depicting the effects on Eva’s roommate (Tia Hendricks) when ash falls mysteriously from the sky, inevitably feels anti-climactic coming midway through the proceedings. The muted color palette, as if the ash had not only fatally infected women but also bleached the world of color, proves another irritating factor.
The personal issues between the two major characters ultimately fail to sustain interest over the course of the movie’s running time, with the more provocative and promising plot elements frustratingly undeveloped. It’s not the fault of Odom and Pinto, who essentially carry the film with their intense performances. But there’s something wrong when you’re watching a post-apocalyptic thriller and all you can think about is how much the central characters would benefit from couples therapy.
Production company: Tadmor, Astrakan
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Freida Pinto, Leslie Odom Jr., Chandler Riggs, Jayson Warner Smith, Tia Hendricks
Director-screenwriter: Takashi Doscher
Producers: Gabrielle Pickle, Eyal Rimmon
Executive producers: Gideon Tadmor, Jim Kaufman
Director of photography: Sean Stiegemeier
Production designer: Erik Robert
Editors: David Pergolini, Josh Land
Composers: John Kaefer, Michael Dean Parsons
Costume designer: Dana Konick
Casting: Jordan Brown