Director David Farr Producer Nikki Parrott Screenwriter David Farr Starring Clémence Poésy, David Morrissey, Stephen Campbell Moore, Laura Birn Country Of Origin UK 2015 Running Time 90 mins UK Distribution Icon Film Distribution
THE ONES BELOW confirms something we’ve all known for a really long time: if your neighbours are too neat and tidy, keeping their soap at a right angle to their hair brush at all times, and their lawn looking like an Ikea rug, they’re probably psychopaths.
David Farr’s directorial graduation from theatre to film is the perfect ode to Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY, from the skinny blonde Mia Farrow-like mother (Clemence Posey) to the lullaby music to the ominous offerings of home-made health drinks which are delivered with a concerned smile but which clearly have rat poison in them. Kate (Posey) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) are anticipating the birth of their first child in their upstairs London flat, and decide to welcome their new neighbours below, also expecting their first, up for a friendly meal. But the promising evening turns into the dinner party from hell when a tragic accident involving wine, a dark landing and a cat set the couple below onto a path of vengeance. The previously ominous, ‘something’s-not-right’ tone spirals into thrilling suspense, perfectly timed and perfectly executed by the cast.
Theresa and Jon (Laura Birn and David Morissey) are worthy modern day threats, carrying none of the comic old-fashionedness of Minnie and Roman Castevet from ROSEMARY’S BABY but all of the intrusive authoritarianism. They are young, attractive, well travelled, earnest and still seem in the first flushes of passionate love with each other. Instead of harbouring a stuffy interior, everything in their sharp ‘n’ shiny flat and on their persons is a shade of citrus. But although Jon is a domineering sort of husband with clear expectations – the sort of man you wouldn’t want to piss off – there is little evidence at first of how deep the roots of their combined passion goes. They have been trying for a baby for a long time, and nothing will get in the way of them getting what they want.
Farr’s carefully realistic script – domestic and simple – coupled with the horror-inspired camera and editing that tells of something sinister just ‘below’ the surface, whips up a tense atmosphere. Kate is increasingly isolated from her husband who we can see falling into a trap that his rational mind won’t let him comprehend. THE ONES BELOW simply follows the domestic horror-thriller format, complete with Hitchcockian strings signifying the ongoing murky descent and two blonde leading ladies.
But Farr needed to utilise the Hitchockian power of the unsaid, too. Being a version of a classic story and therefore wholly predictable, there were ends that could have been much more successfully tied up with our imaginations than by showing us what was so obvious. Despite moments of very effective visual symbolism – a bottle of smashed milk on the welcome mat with a note swimming in the middle from ‘the ones below’, us watching Theresa reclining on her sun lounger in the garden with her citrus things all around her from the upstairs window – in the end, everything wraps up too neatly and loses its edge.
Nevertheless, THE ONES BELOW offers an increasingly thrilling, if predictable, experience and sensitive approach to an old hat tale. Farr just might be our Polanski – if he learns when to stop.
The Final Word: Farr shows himself to be a master of suspense but a novice in the art of mystery
THE ONES BELOW is showing at the BFI London Film Festival on the 14th, 16th and 17th October.