Movie Review: The Ones Below (2016)
“How well do you know your neighbors?”
The Ones Below (2016)
Director: David Farr
Cast: Clémence Poésy, David Morrissey, Stephen Campbell Moore
Synopsis: A couple expecting their first baby have reservations about their new neighbours.
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Neighbours, eh? They can enrich our lives or destroy them, and are one of the things over which we have little or no control. Some bad neighbours make their presence known from the condition of their house or the noise that issues from it, but others aren’t quite so easy to identify. The friendly, respectable face they present to the world often conceals the kind of dark motives which make them infinitely more unnerving than the ones who play their music too loud at weekends.
Kate (Clemence Poesy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore – Man Up) are a professional couple looking forward to the day they can welcome their first baby to their new flat. By coincidence, the couple that move into the flat below are also expecting a baby, which provides a convenient ice breaker when Kate meets Theresa (Laura Birn – Purge) in their communal hallway. Theresa is friendly enough, and happily accepts Kate’s invitation to dinner, but her older husband, Jon (David Morrissey – Centurion, Welcome to the Punch) is rather aloof and a little arrogant, so a slightly uncomfortable evening takes a nightmarish turn when Theresa suffers a miscarriage after tripping over Kate’s cat and falling down the stairs.
The uncontrolled rage with which Kate and Justin’s offer of sympathy is rejected shocks them both, and Jon leaves them in no doubt that he considers them responsible for his wife’s miscarriage, so they’re a little taken aback when the bereaved couple try to make amends upon their return from an extended trip to Jon’s home in Germany. By then, Kate and Justin are the proud parents of a healthy baby boy called Billy, and Kate feels obliged to accept Theresa’s offer to help take care of him any time she needs a few hours peace.
That offer couldn’t come at a better time, because it’s not long before Billy begins keeping his increasingly frazzled parent’s awake with his nocturnal crying. When he does finally nod off, a car alarm invariably begins blaring outside. But even with Theresa’s help, Kate finds herself growing increasingly stressed out, and odd incidents start taking place around the flat. First, the spare keyto the flat disappears from its hook on the wall by the front door, then a pan burns on the stove while they’re out, and the bath overflows. Kate insists she’s not to blame for these mishaps, but Justin grows increasingly concerned about her state of mind, particularly as there’s a history of mental illness in her family.
Although it starts strongly, The Ones Below loses momentum fairly early on as it asks its audience to overlook the absence of observations any loving parents would make when faced with the kind of situation in which Kate and Justin find themselves. Considering the level of vitriol in Theresa and John’s outburst, most parents would be extremely wary of letting either of them near their new-born child, no matter how contrite they might seem, but Kate and Justin accept their apology with little more than a mutual glance and a mental shrug before handing Billy over. In the same vein, Justin’s assumption that his wife is having some kind of breakdown when the mishaps begin almost immediately after the spare front door key goes missing simply beggars belief.
All movies rely on a certain suspension of disbelief from its audience to see it over plot points that don’t hold up under scrutiny, but the really good ones manage to disguise the flaws so that they only become apparent once the film is over. With The Ones Below, though, we’re constantly distracted by a barrage of observations and questions that surface unbidden in our mind as we watch. It’s a shame, because theatrical director David Farr proves to be as effective on the screen as he is on the stage, creating a subtly claustrophobic atmosphere, and a strong feel for the frayed senses of an exhausted mother struggling for coherent thought while under constant bombardment from stimuli deliberately designed to prevent it.
(Reviewed 12th September 2016)