Only Review: Derivative Post-Apocalyptic Drama Turns Women Into a Commodity

Only seems like a movie tailor-made for this moment. Post-apocalyptic movies are a dime a dozen in recent years, but Only’s depiction of a world laid low by a terrible disease that’s forced Eva (Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire) to stay inside to avoid being infected is strikingly familiar. Yet, this particular disease isn’t an equal-opportunity infector. While men can be carriers, the virus only kills women — and it does so slowly and mercilessly. So while Eva stays on lockdown with no end in sight, her boyfriend, Will (Leslie Odom Jr. from Broadway’s Hamilton), can go about his business as he pleases. And this is where the movie’s true interest lies. While the world may be crumbling around them, the dynamic between Eva and Will, and what it says about gender dynamics, is what the movie is most concerned with exploring.

As a result, I suspect Only will be something of a Rorschach test for the way people feel about women and who gets to control their bodies. As Eva’s days inside the couple’s small apartment lengthen (she reaches well over 400), she gets increasingly desperate for some connection to the outside world. Meanwhile, Will is desperate to keep her safe by any means necessary and polices her every move, eventually becoming more like her jailer than her partner.

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Will never asks what Eva wants and Eva never articulates it. Instead, the couple devolve into gender archetypes — Eva becomes an emotional wreck, while Will copes by focusing only on what he sees as the most rational behavior given the circumstances. Eventually, Will’s controlling ways lead Eva to take drastic action.

The scenes of Eva’s isolation are intercut with a road trip the couple eventually take through the post-apocalyptic landscape. There, we catch short glimpses of what a world without women might look like, including the extreme measures these men are willing to take to ensure they can preserve the few women who remain alive.

These brief scenes hint at a more interesting and unique movie than the one writer and director Takashi Dorscher has made. While a great deal of Only comes across as derivative of one thing or another — a sprinkle of Bird Box here, a dash of A Handmaid’s Tale there — the vision of a post-apocalyptic population consisting only of men offers something different than the average dystopian tale. The movie sticks with Will and Eva though, as they make their way through the desolate setting, while attempting to keep Eva safe from the men who would turn her into the government for a hefty bounty.

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Pinto and Odom’s performances are solid and occasionally help to elevate the material. However, they never come across as the most convincing couple, even in the few flashbacks to the time before the disease when they were free and in love. The characters talk in partial sentences, never fully articulating what they mean. This is intended to express their comfort and familiarity with one another, but it comes across as irritating as the characters fail to fill the audience or each other in on what they’re feeling and thinking.

Genre fans may be excited to see The Walking Dead alum Chandler Riggs’ name in the credits, but he’s severely underutilized. As the stepson of a man determined to hunt down and turn in Eva, he has barely any lines and the only action he takes outside of the watchful eye of his stepfather is eye-roll worthy.

Only is a frustrating experience. Ultimately, those who believe Will is right to do whatever it takes to keep Eva safe, no matter what Eva wants, may enjoy the film to some degree. Yet the film is reminiscent of too many other, better movies and TV shows to be truly immersive, and its themes are too muddled to be truly provocative. While there are intriguing elements here, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Directed by Takashi Doscher, Only stars Freida Pinto, Leslie Odom Jr. and Chandler Riggs. It is available on demand.

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While Only seems tailor-made for our quarantined moment, it's too derivative and its themes are too muddled to make the film more than frustrating.

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