One of the common criticisms levelled at debut directors who polished their trade in theatrical circles is that their onscreen vision lacks ambition; their settings are regularly limited to the interior, and the structure is that of a chamber piece. First-time filmmaker David Farr could easily be accused of such idle initiative, but his actions behind the camera show an artist playing with the form like a pro.
We meet Kate and Justin (Clémence Poésy & Stephen Campbell Moore), a thirtysomething couple expecting their first child, on the day they discover new neighbours are moving into the flat below them. They are Teresa and Jon (Laura Birn & David Morrissey), and by happenstance, they are also expecting a baby.
Kate harbours deep-rooted fears that she will not be able to cope as a mother, a disparity to Theresa, who delights in the prospect of becoming a parent. Keen to build a closer bond between the two households, Kate invites the pair to join her and Justin for dinner. The mood, however, is passively aggressive; conversation born out of obligation, not interest. But after the night ends with tragedy, the hostility between the two couples manifests as a nightmare of suspicion and obsession.In its early stages, The Ones Below piles on plenty of intrigue. Farr’s DP Ed Rutherford drawing suspense from stillness, the full frames and tight focus forcing your eyes to dart across the screen to search for clues. Augmented further by the creeping score, Farr shapes an atmosphere that strikes somewhere between Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt; eerie and intimidating.
Enigmatic performances from Laura Birn and David Morrissey lace the mystery, which is tied together perfectly by Clémence Poésy’s insecurity – her anxiety, and gradual alienation grounding the puzzle with palpable psychological terror.
Farr obviously delights in playing with his audience. He filters fear through colour; the earthy hues of Kate and Justin’s flat suffusing the story with a sense of foreboding, while the lush 50s design and luminous tones of Teresa and Jon’s apartment instilling this bitter tale of suburbia with a delicious twist of social satire.
The problem, as is so often the way with such pulp fare, is that it inevitably descends in to foolishly far-fetched territory the closer it moves towards the dénouement – this is a film that honestly suggests a couple on a budget could find a perfect property to move to in outer London within 24 hours of looking. Until that moment though, The Ones Below is tremendous fun.