'The Ones Below': TIFF Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Hate thy neighbor.

Post-partum baby blues take on nightmarish dimensions in David Farr's debut feature, a slick suspense thriller that borrows from some famous movie ancestors.

"You don't deserve that thing inside you!" This chilling line, directed at the heavily pregnant heroine of The Ones Below, sets up a derivative but polished psycho-thriller that never tries to hide its obvious debts to vintage Polanski and Hitchcock. Set in contemporary London, the feature debut of British stage dramatist and Royal Shakespeare Company veteran David Farr is a superior genre exercise with plenty of creepy ambiance and an attractive ensemble cast in its favor. A modest theatrical afterlife should prove likely following its Toronto launch this week.

Clemence Poesy (Harry Potter, Gossip Girl) stars as Kate, a young Londoner expecting her first child with husband Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore). When new neighbors move into the fancy garden apartment downstairs, wealthy banker Jon (David Morrissey) initially acts gruff and distant, but his glamorous Scandinavian wife, Theresa (Laura Birn), quickly forms an almost over-friendly bond with Kate. United by pregnancy, the women bring their spouses together for a boozy dinner party that ends in horror when Theresa stumbles down an unlit staircase, losing her baby.

Angry and bereft, Jon and Theresa blame their neglectful new neighbors for the loss. Relations between the couples turn bitter, amplifying latent tensions between Justin and Kate, who has a delicate family history of depression and suicide. But the mood lightens a little when the grieving newcomers leave London for a spell to get over their tragedy, pointedly avoiding the birth of Kate's healthy baby boy.

Returning to London with Jon months later, a contrite Theresa cautiously rebuilds her friendship with Kate, even earning her trust as a regular babysitter. But her close interest in the child begins to suggest murky ulterior motives. Suspicions aroused by a series of sinister clues and near-miss accidents, Kate turns detective on her neighbors. Adhering to the psycho-thriller manual, Farr naturally keeps us guessing whether all this dark stuff is really happening or just post-natal paranoia. Which is a big hot steaming bowl of Rosemary's Baby, of course, but tasty and nutritious all the same.

Farr keeps us hooked into this familiar plot with plenty of creeping dread, a Polanski-lite crackle of polymorphous sexual tension, and some stylishly weird visual touches, notably a garden that looks so clinically neat it could be a stage set. Birn and Moore are both a little too stiff and colorless, but Poesy convinces as a mentally fragile young mother while Morrissey exudes his usual blunt, alpha-male charisma.

Constrained by limited narrative options, the obligatory final plot twists are not hard to guess, sticking comfortably within genre rules. A more imaginative director might have added more dark humor and social commentary, playing on the class tensions, property-based anxieties and aspirational status signifiers that obsess many well-heeled Londoners. But for all its limited ambitions, The Ones Below serves its purpose as a solid calling card for Farr's filmmaking future, a gripping exercise in domestic suspense that sets out its stall on the shoulders of giants.

 


Production companies: Cuba Pictures, Tigerlily Films, BBC Films, BFI

Cast: Clemence Poesy, Laura Birn, David Morrissey, Stephen Campbell Moore

Director, screenwriter: David Farr

Cinematographer: Ed Rutherford

Editor: Chris Wyatt

Production design: Francesca di Mottola

Music: Adem Ilhan

Producer: Nikki Parrott

Sales company: Protagonist Pictures

Rated 14A, 87 minutes

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