With The Ones Below, director David Farr, takes for his directorial debut the subject of pre-natal paranoia. The results are unsettling – but not in quite the way Farr intended.
Emma and Justin are a wealthy and attractive young couple expecting their first baby. When another expectant couple move into the flat beneath their spacious London house, Emma is thrilled to have someone with whom to share her pre-natal anxieties. But Teresa and Jon are a ‘different’ sort of couple, and tensions between the new neighbours quickly mushroom into something more sinister.
From the outset Farr’s film identifies itself as a chilling psychodrama: the overture channels that same eerie lullaby that rang through Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. But in many ways this reference is Farr’s first misstep, for his film wholly fails to live up to its predecessor.
Tension is triggered, not by the narrative, but by Clémence Poésy’s dubious English accent: she seems to be concentrating so hard on sounding convincing that we constantly half-expect her to put a foot wrong. David Morrissey puts in an utterly over-egged performance, chewing every piece of furniture he encounters as Teresa’s controlling, misogynistic husband.
This is not to say The Ones Below isn’t entertaining. Farr has gone to great lengths to keep his narrative slick, and there’s a gleeful aspect of Lynchian surrealism, particularly in the film’s bright pastel aesthetic, that sets Farr's film apart from the average straight-to-TV thriller. Moments of melodrama that would give Airplane! a run for its money also trigger chuckles.
But the pure middle class pointlessness of it all is the most unsettling thing about The Ones Below. Narrative threads are picked up and dropped at random, and rather than developing his characters Farr invites us into their spotless homes, to admire rooms that wouldn’t be out of place in an interior design catalogue. We are called on leer with fetishism at the smooth pregnant bodies of its two impossibly attractive female protagonists. Where Rosemary’s Baby gripped audiences with the slow boiling paranoia of Mia Farrow’s performance, Farr’s film seems more preoccupied with our ticking body clocks.
Even shrewd signposting of its cinematic heritage can’t save The Ones Below from revealing itself as a disappointing cliché.
|What||The Ones Below, film review: Berlin 2016 "Navel-gazing middle class melodrama"|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
11 Mar 16 – 11 May 16, 'The Ones Below' UK release date: Friday 11 March. Times vary according to cinema
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to go to the film's IMDB page|