Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but what about neighbours? If David Farr’s impressive debut feature The Ones Below is anything to go by, it might be best to avoid them completely. Having previously penned several episodes of Spooks and jointly scripted Joe Wright’s Hanna with Canadian screenwriter Seth Lochhead, the Guildford local tries his hand at directing for the first time along with typically accomplished writing duties. Covering both bases well, he puts a simmering tale of suburban peril on a slow boil, throws in a twist and a turn and conjures up an end product that is certainly gripping but perhaps too open and shut to linger in the mind after its slick ninety minutes are up.
From the gentle lullaby of a dreamlike opening there is something perfectly off-key with The Ones Below, Farr hitting just the right note to inject menace from the get-go. Never quite sitting comfortably in our seat, we enter the upstairs flat of a plush Islington home, occupied by parents-to-be Kate (Clémence Poésy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore). Effortlessly cool boho types, she designs dresses and he works for a non-profit magazine. The long-vacant apartment below is filled by newcomers Justin (David Morrissey) and Teresa (Laura Birn); he’s a banker with a BMW and she a Scandinavian trophy wife. Upstairs is the muted end of a Dulux colour chart and downstairs garish pastels. The same applies to wardrobes, Farr positioning the couples as so diametrically opposed it feels a little ridiculous.
Will opposites attract? Chalk and cheese they may be but Teresa is also pregnant so the ladies hit it off. However, uncomfortable close-ups, abrupt questions and differences of opinion on motherhood at a dinner party soon takes the shine off things and a glass of wine too many has dire consequences. The finger of blame is pointed, a tentative truce made but the sinister air of retribution and intimidation coils ever more tightly. The latter half of the film really belongs to Poésy. A viewer’s reaction to Kate’s wild- eyed terror in the midst of debilitating sleep deprivation and postpartum depression will vary from personal experience and gender viewpoint but her paranoia is supremely played.
It’s hard to see why Campbell Moore does not receive better and more significant roles. His turn as the everyman who knows too little cries with finely tuned desperation and although Morrissey isn’t given a great deal to work with his imposing size and malevolent stare are chilling. Connections will inevitably be made between The Ones Below and Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Furthermore, Birn is extremely Hitchcockian as Teresa – a late costume change sees her as close to Kim Novak in Vertigo as is humanly possible. Influences of the aforementioned masters of cinemas are strongly felt here but elements of pastiche aside Farr’s suspense-filled first endeavour behind the camera shows signs of genuine promise.