A troubled couple go to a vacation home and discover a strange secret in the guest house.
Charlie McDowell, 2014
Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) have started seeing a couples therapist to help them with their struggling marriage. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the tharapist (Ted Danson) suggests they head somewhere he’s sent a number of similar couples: he sends them for a weekend getaway at a holiday home. Once they arrive, they start to loosen up as they get used to the place. Ethan heads up to bed while Sophie goes to explore the guest house; to her surprise he joins her there. This Ethan isn’t all he seems, though; he’s relaxed and upbeat, unlike his usual dour self, and the two of them have a great time. Later, when Sophie brings it up, Ethan has no memory of the events of the evening. The mystery of the guest house starts to reveal itself, testing their bonds and the notion of what it is to be married.
This is a quiet little indie film that seems to have been gathering some buzz since its Netflix release, after doing the festival circuit a while back. With the exception of two scenes, the film is essentially a one-location two-hander. Ted Danson makes a brief appearance at the beginning, playing a quirky counsellor without too much grandeur. The rest of the film features two actors you’ve seen around, mostly on TV, this film isn’t overly ambitious; it has one premise that it lays out carefully, taking its time to play out. This allows us plenty of time to get to know the characters: Sophie is free-willed but demanding, and feels stifled in the marriage, while Ethan is caring but stolid, and has trouble being spontaneous. They get to play a lot of different facets of both characters before the film plays out, playing off each other in interesting ways, and they both prove more than up to the task. Their relationship is so believable, all the more so because these aren’t big Hollywood actors; both of them are people you could be friends with in real life, and their problems are relatable. Which is important, because the fantastical twist the story takes requires you to be invested in the characters and have them be grounded in reality.
Unfortunately, because of the pace, by the time the movie wraps up it feels like the twist hasn’t really been completely explained or explored. The escape element takes over the relationship story, and while the movie ends on an interesting note, it feels somewhat empty. Ethan and Sophie don’t seem to have fully worked through the issues that brought them to the holiday house in the first place. It’s most interesting in the ways it uses its premise to explore what it means to be married, how a person’s feelings can change over the years, and what it means when one person is more invested in the relationship than the other. There are nuances at work in both characters that play out in how they treat one another and the unexpected guest house twist. It’s a well-told story, deftly directed in a beautiful location, and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for something that hasn’t been done before.
The One I Love on IMDb