David Farr is clearly looking to make his audience squirm with The Ones Below, an aloof and frosty psychological thriller that sees suburban bliss turn into a nightmare for a couple of affluent Londoners. Full of passive aggressive tension and more than a couple of verbal Mexican standoffs, this is filmmaking designed to set your teeth on edge. It’s deftly acted and, for at least its first two-thirds, unravels with minimal fuss. A little goes a long way: something which Farr seems to forget in the closing minutes.
The Ones Below boasts a script that has you second guessing motives to some degree, but it also boasts an environment that feels strangely sterile, almost fake. Farr, who is also on writing duty here, certainly knows how to tap into a vein of tension, but occasionally you wonder if this isn’t all one sophisticated staring contest. For all the welcome nastiness that is on show, there’s a sense of the superficial that, I think, is a symptom of the occasional misfire rather than a considered addition.
Kate (Clemence Poesy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) are enjoying their life of bourgeois domesticity when slightly more prosperous couple Jon (David Morrissey) and Theresa (Laura Birn) move into the flat below them. Jon and Theresa seem curiously formal (leaving their shoes outside the front door of their flat) but both couples are expecting their first baby, a fact over which the couples chat during a dinner party. Any blossoming friendship between the parties is derailed sadly, when a piece of miscommunication sees Theresa go tumbling down the stairs at the expense of the foetus inside her.
The loss is even more devastating for the fact that Jon and Theresa have been desperately trying to conceive for years, while Justin and Kate have breezed into their pregnancy. Naturally the death of an unborn baby drives a wedge between the couples, with Jon and Theresa leaving the scene for a while. When they return they appear to have put their differences and tragedy behind them, but Kate worries that they may have suddenly become unhealthily, suspiciously friendly.
All four individuals involved in this emotional four-way deliver more than enough in the way requisite chilliness and the script avoids showing its hand for two-thirds of its running with neat tightrope walk of insanity and paranoia. The high point comes mid-way through the drama as Poesy’s Kate begins to assume the worst about her neighbour and succeeds in dragging her husband down an avenue of suspicion and hysterics. The final movement comes with a wave of disappointment though, as the narrative takes a cruel, yet infinitely less interesting turn. Farr seems to want to wrap up his narrative threads in a neat little package here, which is fine, but The Ones Below ends with a smug sense of self-satisfaction that doesn’t do justice to its previous good work.
The Ones Below is in cinemas 11th March 2016.
Director: David Farr
Writer: David Farr
Starring: David Morrissey, Clemence Poesy, Stephen Campbell Moore
Runtime: 87 minutes