Director: David Farr
15 | 1h 27min | Thriller | 11 March 2016 (UK)
David Farr’s psychological thriller The Ones Below tips its hat to paranoia-soaked mysteries of yesteryear with a plot, set in a leafy middle class London suburb, in which the lives of a thirty-something couple living in London become fatally intertwined with those of their possibly-unhinged downstairs neighbours. Films such as Arlington Road and The Burbs spring to mind, but The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Rosemary’s Baby are also in the frame, as the main character in Farr’s film, whose perspective we largely follow, is a young and increasingly-anxious pregnant woman who may or may not be imagining that next door a plot against them is being cooked up. It is a small, very contained film that feels like it could easily have been a stage play.
There is potential in the scenario and a game cast, but Farr’s film is hobbled by some clunky execution and tonal uncertainty. The film never seems to know if it wants to make you snicker at the social mores and dysfunctions of the genteel middle-classes, or feel genuinely creeped out by the possibility that upstairs flat dwellers Kate (Clemence Poesy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) are really about to become victim to a vicious, slow burning plot to disrupt their lives and steal their baby by their weird and also-expecting rich neighbours Jon (David Morrissey) and Theresa (Laura Birn). Either direction would work, but Farr’s film isn’t quite funny or socially observant enough to work as a cross examination or satire of the dark side of life in the ranks of the British chattering classes, nor does it do much more than crib from the paranoia thriller handbook: with the ‘the woman is possibly crazy and dreaming all this up’ trope feeling particularly stale at this point in time.
That being said, the film does deliciously nail at times the painfully well-meaning attempts the polite classes find themselves making to relate to people they really would prefer to avoid (the scene where Justin makes a stunning verbal faux pas to Jon’s face after a terrible accident befalls the downstairs couple is perhaps the best example of this). There are some striking flourishes visually too, such as the freaky picture-postcard aesthetic of Jon and Theresa’s house and garden (they look like something out of a Mad Men presentation). But it’s a shame these moments just feel like window dressing rather than part of a whole. The last five minutes also result in a quite unnecessary plot giveaway, missing the chance for the whole thing to come to an end on a tantalising note.