Directed by David Farr
Starring David Morrissey, Clemence Poesy, Stephen Campbell Moore, Laura Birn
Released on 4th July 2016
David Farr wrote and directed this psychological thriller well before his stock was on the rise with TV’s The Night Manager. The Ones Below popped up at a number of film festivals, including London last year, had a limited release in the spring and now arrives on DVD, the format it’s best suited for.
Kate and Justin (Clemence Poesy and Stephen Campbell Moore) live in a comfortable first floor apartment and are expecting their first baby. The flat below has been vacant for some time when new couple Theresa and Jon (Laura Birn and David Morrissey) moves in. They, too, are expecting their first child, which gives the two women some common ground. But what was intended as a welcoming dinner party at Kate and Justin’s changes everything. A tragic accident changes the relationship between the two couples and Kate starts to suspect sinister goings-on.
The new neighbours are a very strange couple and you’re suspicious of them from the outset – even before you see them. Before they’ve moved in, Kate and Justin are having dinner with friends and discussing the renovations in the flat below while a well-dressed man in the background purchases a takeaway. We wouldn’t notice him except that the camera gets increasingly closer and, even though we never see his face, it’s obviously David Morrissey. Did he hear the disparaging conversation? It’s hard to imagine he didn’t. That feeling of unease continues when we meet them: their habit of always leaving their shoes outside their front door, the garden that is so over-tidy it appears to be filled with plastic hedging and grass. And even though Theresa seems to embrace her pregnancy, there’s the distinct feeling of something is untoward between her and Jon.
Kate, on the other hand, seems apprehensive about her pregnancy but, despite this difference between her and Theresa, the two couples are almost mirror images of each other, physically especially. The similarity is at its most striking from the back and the film makes clever use of frequent rear shots. It’s all part of building the tension and the general feeling of unease, making you wonder if Kate’s suspicions are real, the product of her being over-protective of her new baby or something more serious. One moment you decide she’s right, the next there’s a plausible explanation for what’s going on – alarms going off, the bath overflowing, the gas left turned on, strange sounds coming from the baby monitor – and you start to wonder about her state of mind and your own. And the title implies that there could be a drift towards horror at any moment.
It’s kept tight, with a cast of just four players – if you don’t count the baby and the cat – and most of it is set within one or other apartment, all of which makes it perfect for the small screen. If anything, your comparative closeness to the action makes the mind games even more effective, as you search for clues to give you the answer. It’s a film that fancies itself in the Hitchcockian mode, Rear Window in particular, and which toys with the fears and isolation that can go with pregnancy and parenthood.
Yet, just as the film is reaching its climax, it’s as if Farr runs out of steam, and it all goes flat, like a deflating balloon. Everything is wrapped up with unseemly haste and with a conclusion that’s not just obvious, but more than a little nonsensical. For all its good looks and style, The Ones Below is ultimately insubstantial and less than satisfying.
The Ones Below is released on DVD on Monday, 4 July and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 7 July.