We meet a family of four, as parents Elizabeth (Elizabeth Reaser) and Daniel (Grant Bowler) have raised their two teenage children Eva (Kiernan Shipka) and Zac (Timothée Chalamet) in somewhat challenging circumstances; in a secluded area of the woods, surrounded by a colossal wall, keeping them contained, and cut off from the outside world. It’s the only life the children have ever known, but with extraordinary supernatural powers, with the ability to transport themselves elsewhere, the temptation to escape becomes alluring, though adapting and surviving outside of this sector is another matter entirely.
When we’re introduced to this family dynamic, despite leading completely abnormal lives, it’s relatively identifiable. Their respective relationships are relatable, such as the bond shared between Eva and her mother, as the two youngsters act up and rebel in a way juveniles often do, as we witness them acting frivolous, and being, well, teenagers. It’s essential we can see them in this manner, and understand them before the supernaturalism takes precedence over the narrative. Though a paramount plot device, the fantastical elements are to the film’s detriment, as we deviate carelessly away from the compelling, naturalistic coming-of-age tale that had been initially presented.
Much of that is down to how frustratingly oblique their powers are, not fully explained in a comprehensible way. As such the introduction of this surrealistic edge has the ability to take the viewer out of this story, and given how vital a role it plays, that proves to be something of an issue. But thankfully the performance from the talented Shipka – known predominantly for her role in Mad Men, playing Jon Hamm’s daughter Sally Draper, is a shining light, as she has a level of sincerity to her demeanour, and the ability to draw the viewer in, and have them root for her character’s cause.
Though on the most part this production is tedious and needlessly ambiguous, there is enough on display to mark what could be a promising career ahead of director Palermo, particularly in how he has approached this project visually, moving persistently between darkness and an unforgiving brightness, representative of the world we inhabit – the former linked to the one the protagonists are trapped in, and then the limitless sense of immensity outside of this locality. However it’s not enough to keep the audience engaged, as the title of this feature proves to be sadly representative of how many stars to choose between when rating this underwhelming production.