Pandemic movies are a guilty pleasure. Back in March 2020, Contagion trended on Netflix as people watched it for obvious reasons. But more than a year later, it’s clear our real-life pandemic experiences didn’t exactly match the high-octane intrigue of the Steven Soderbergh classic.
But this 2019 movie, now streaming on Netflix, steps away from Contagion and instead depicts the more relatable terror of a pandemic: distance, paranoia, and the need to protect those you love. The result is terrifying, heartbreaking, and eerily familiar. Only is the 2020 nostalgia movie you didn’t know you needed with a hefty dose of science fiction to keep things just light enough.
Directed by Takashi Doscher, Only follows a young couple, Eva and Will, as they navigate a new pandemic that is incredibly deadly — but only to women. While Eva quarantines and Will tries to make their apartment completely sealed off from the outside world, they realize they can’t live this way forever.
Much like our blurred-together memories of the past year, the events of Only are told out of order, starting from the middle when Will and Eva leave their apartment. It then flashes back to the beginning of the outbreak, and the two storylines continue forward from there. The end of the movie includes both the conclusion of Eva and Will’s story and the events that led to the beginning.
The acting amplifies the uncanniness of the movie. Slumdog Millionaire’s Frieda Pinto and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom, Jr. show every ugly corner of life in isolation, from not being able to touch each other to panicked grocery runs to Zoom calls with parents.
Eva finds solace in chat rooms with other uninfected females as they slowly dwindle, either dying off or being raided and sent to detention for “Project Embryo,” a government initiative to protect population growth.
The “only women are dying” imagery can get silly, like a grocery aisle of tampons being marked “FREE” or graffiti that says “you go girl!” But the worldbuilding is deeply chilling. At one point, Will shops for a gun in order to defend himself from bounty hunters. The gun shop owner suggests a rifle, warning, “If you hit them in the ovaries, they’re not worth anything.”
This all leads to a tumultuous ending. Though we see Will and Eva on a trip, we don’t know where they’re going or what they plan to do, but it all becomes painfully clear in a flashback. In a 2019 interview, director Takashi Doscher told Black Girl Nerds this was the entire emotional engine of the plot.
“The decision that Eva chooses to make in the end may be a bit polarizing for some people, and they may view it as selfish,” he said. “However, I think other people may view it as quite heroic. For me, the ending was a moment for her to assert her agency in a world where she has pretty much lost all agency.”
Only’s social commentary isn’t hard to understand, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. Eva fears strange men because there’s a bounty on any living uninfected female, but women have long been conditioned to fear strange men for more mundane reasons. Only Will can leave the house while the plague is airborne, but even out of a pandemic, women are pressured to stay at home more than men.
Only is above all else a pandemic movie, but one that finds its fear in the little things, the constant dread and paranoia, the never-ending disinfectant, and the cabin fever. When those things get to be too much, what’s left? The answer is grim but paints a beautiful conclusion to this dystopian future.
Only is now streaming on Netflix.