The Ones Below (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

The Ones Below

Dir. David Farr, UK, 2015, 87 mins

Cast: David Morrissey, Clémence Poésy, Stephen Campbell Moore, Laura Birn

David Farr is an eclectic dramatic storyteller.  Writer of the gripping John Le Carré based television thriller “The Night Manager” and the feature film “Hanna”, he is also a respected theatre director for the Bristol Old Vic, Lyric Hammersmith and the Royal Shakespeare Company.  “The Ones Below”, which he also wrote, marks his feature film directing debut.

This is a well-acted and gripping piece of initially domestic drama, which turns into something much darker.   Kate (Poésy) and Justin (Campbell Moore) are a successful thirty something couple, who are expecting their first baby.   Another couple Jon (Morrissey) and Theresa (Birn) move into the flat below.  Theresa is also pregnant and the two women become friends.   But while Kate is nervous about her pregnancy and her ability to be a good mother, Theresa is overjoyed about hers, as she and her husband have been trying for a baby for seven years.  At first the friendship between the two women goes well.  But when Kate invites the other couple to dinner, things start to go sour. The two men do not hit it off, the relationship between Theresa and her over-controlling husband creates an uneasy atmosphere, and the evening ends in a tragic accident, when Theresa falls down the stairs and loses her baby.

Jon and Theresa blame Kate and Justin for the miscarriage and it looks like we could be in for a standard, horror-type film revenge tale.   But it’s not that simple.  The “ones below” go away for a while to get over their loss, Kate’s baby is born and when the other couple returns, they are full of apologies for their abusive behaviour, while Theresa is only too happy to help Kate in coping with the demands of new motherhood.   But is it that simple?  Kate begins to suspect that something sinister is going on.   Her husband though thinks her suspicions are all in her mind.

The film cleverly avoids the danger of being predictable, although as a viewer you do have your doubts about the volte-face of the ones below when they return, and it builds up the tension nicely towards its shocking climax.  The story telling is well served by the performances of the four main characters.  French actress Poésy plays Kate with an impressive English accent and a convincing sense of fragility beneath her apparent confidence, while Morrissey as the ruthless businessman Jon, who is used to always getting what he wants, is a dominating figure with an unsettling presence.  The over formal back garden which Jon creates and which dominates the view from Kate and Justin’s flat also reflects the character’s controlling nature .

The film may be criticized by some as being television level drama rather than cinema, in that it is the sort of literate, character led story without car chases etc which we’re more used to seeing these days on the box.   But the sense of menace and apprehension it creates hark back in atmosphere to classic chillers such as Polanski’s “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby” and in storyline to “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”, while its characters, apart from Theresa, are essentially English middle-class figures playing out a contemporary and rather Grimm tale. All of which makes this a gripping piece of psychological thriller cinema or as Farr himself describes it “a dark, modern fairy tale”.

Review by Carol Allen