The Ones Below Throws the Mystery Out With the Bathwater
A new UK chiller gives birth to empty paranoia and a predictable plot.
Kate (Clémence Poésy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) are happy with their marriage, their careers, and their London flat, and thanks to a tiny British bun in the oven they’re hoping to soon be happy with their new child as well. There are things to be nervous about of course, but they’re competent and confident people, so what could go wrong?
Cut to new neighbors moving in to the flat beneath them, and the answer becomes clear. Jon (David Morrissey) and Theresa (Laura Birn) are equally pregnant but far more uptight and mysterious, and those traits bubble into anger and accusation after a tragic accident ends Theresa’s pregnancy. They leave town, Kate give birth, and her new life settles into a routine of sorts that’s soon interrupted by the downstairs couple’s return. It’s not long before paranoia takes up residence alongside the young family too.
Bitches be “crazy.”
I’m not making an accusation there, I’m simply identifying the thriller sub-genre to which writer/director David Farr’s feature debut, The Ones Below, belongs. I’m not talking about movies featuring an insane female antagonist either as those women are crazy sans quotation marks. No, these particular bitches are instead the protagonists slowly driven mad through intentional manipulation.
It’s no spoiler to say that Kate is cracking beneath pressure being applied by someone around her as it’s clear early on in the film. Instead the two questions at play here are who’s responsible and what is his or her end game? Unfortunately for the film (and for audiences), the answers to both questions are sadly obvious.
Farr’s script teases an element of madness in Kate’s family – her mother is an odd bird with unexplored issues involving a brother – but it never becomes more than just that, a tease, and instead we’re left very aware that someone is messing with Kate. The typical beats follow with her finding incriminating evidence, failing to secure it, and then being faced with an understandably doubtful husband.
The gaslighting element is drawn out across the film’s brief running time, and while it does little for the narrative it offers Poésy a meaty role – a rare lead role – and she kills it. You can’t help but get a strong sense of the fragility resting just beneath her outward confidence, and as events move Kate toward uncertainty Poésy does her damnedest to sell her character’s fear and potential for mad behavior. The script tries to pull the rug out from under her, but she maintains her balance until the very end.
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Farr, who wrote Joe Wright’s Hanna and the recent mini-series The Night Manager, succeeds more with what’s on the screen here than what’s on the page. He and cinematographer Ed Rutherford present both couples in brightly-lit environs, but the newcomers pop on the screen with Theresa’s colorful outfits and Jon’s plastic redo of the back yard. The yard, as viewed from Kate’s upstairs window, often resembles a sound stage being readied for an upcoming performance, and it pairs well with the imagined narrative in her head.
The Ones Below feels in some ways like a ’90s thriller à la The Hand that Rocks the Cradle or Arlington Road, but it lacks either of those films’ thrills. Instead it’s a well-acted, attractively-shot drama that ends exactly where you expect.
Related Topics: Horror