"The One I Love" is a clever, lightweight amuse-bouche of a movie built around a conceit that can't be talked about in any detail without unraveling the whole thing. Let's just say it might have been something worthy of a "Twilight Zone" episode if Rod Serling were an indie filmmaker in the 21st century.
Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss are Ethan and Sophie, a Southern California couple in the throes of marital upheaval. He has cheated on her, has apologized and wants to move on. She can't let it go that easily. That's the dilemma they're faced with when we first meet them in the office of their therapist, played by Ted Danson.
The counselor suggests they go away together to reconnect and he knows just the right place, a getaway in nearby Ojai, where he sends a lot of his clients. They take him up on his suggestion and the sprawling property seems idyllic, but what's up with that guest house in the back? Does someone live there? Can anyone just go in there?
If this were a horror movie, viewers might have some idea what to expect because, yeah, going into the guest house might not be the smartest move. But it's not a horror film, and first-time features director Charlie McDowell, along with writer Justin Lader, who's also making his features debut, manage to build the mystery and tension, at least in the film's first half.
Duplass -- known as both a director ("The Puffy Chair," "Cyrus," "Jeff Who Lives at Home") and actor ("Safety Not Guaranteed") -- is effective as the middle-class-guy next door who sees his marriage slipping away. Moss, too, personifies a woman who's hurting.
However, once the twist is out of the bag and the film plays out, "The One I Love" becomes a bit repetitive and anticlimactic. The finale also raises unanswered questions that's going to leave many frustrated.
Still, "The One I Love" is an impressive calling card from a young director.
'The One I love'
* * *
Rating: R (strong language, strong sexuality, drug use)
Cast: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson
Director: Charlie McDowell
Running time: 1 hour,