Good One aims for a sense of understated tension across its minimalistic plotting: Sundance Film Festival Review

There’s universally strong performances across the board and lush cinematography throughout, but one can’t help but wish there was more plotting to Good One for the understated drama to truly land the emotional impact it aims for.

The set-up in India Donaldson‘s film is simple, with 17-year-old Sam (Lily Collias, an absolute breakout) gearing up for a weekend hiking trip with her father, Chris (James Le Gros), his best friend, Matt (Danny McCarthy), and Matt’s son, Dylan.  At the last minute Dylan cancels, leaving Sam to contend with the bruised egos of a duo of divorced dads amongst the Catskills.  Let the fun begin?

For the most part, the trip is a low-drama affair, with only the initial conflict rising between Chris and Matt regarding the latter’s lack of care when it comes to in-tent snacking; “You can be as reckless as you want with your kid, but not when it’s my daughter,” he sternly tells him, referencing the possibility of inviting bears to camp through his crumbs.  It’s the only thing that, initially, rattles the dynamic, so it’s all the more understandable in the context of Donaldson’s subtle, invasive approach to telling the story that an almost-throwaway line of dialogue from Sam about Matt’s behaviour quietly shifts Good One‘s mentality.

A suggestive comment turns the trio’s hike into something casually sinister, leading Sam to both re-evaluate what she thought she knew about Matt and how she views her own father’s attitude.  Chris’ lightly dismissive response to what he hears is understandable – we garner he’s often had to brush off Matt’s perceived behaviour – and Donaldson’s script never villainises his reaction, leading to an eventual conversation between Sam and Chris that places responsibility on how she’ll respond solely on her.  It’s everything that happens once this film finishes that proves most intriguing, and Donaldson leaving the narrative open-ended adds to the voyeuristic temperament the former 90 minutes have delightfully indulged in.

Whilst the lack of plot may leave some feeling Good One is a hollow experience and asking what it’s all about, there’s a certain comfort and then unease in the mundanity of everyone’s actions that make the film undeniably fascinating.  And regardless of how one responds to the structure, the trio of performances make the film, with Collias, in particular, an undeniable force to contend with; her own delicateness in how she navigates the two dominating men in front of her complements the film’s minimalistic tone.


Good One screened as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which took place in-person (and select virtually) between January 18th and 28th, 2024,  For more information head to the official Sundance page.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.