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June 7, 2017

The Ones Below

by Franz Patrick


Ones Below, The (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

“The Ones Below,” based on the screenplay and directed by David Farr, is a curious thriller about two pregnant couples living in a two-story flat in London, but it offers a far more effective rising action than a knockout blow in terms of its late revelations when it comes to what is truly going on underneath the niceties and pleasantries. It is a project that might have benefited from further revisions of the script; there is no third act.

The picture is aimed toward couples who are about to have or have had a baby because it plays upon the fears of new parents. Notice how the atmosphere and tone is almost clinical in that scenes shot indoors look as if the action were taking place at a hospital or a posh office. There is no laughter or joy, no jokes uttered or even a hint of playful exchanges between the couples. Looking into their lives is like peering into a mouse study where every element inside the plastic box is meant to be controlled and observed. There is an increasing unease as the plot is propelled forward.

Kate (Clémence Poésy) and Justin (Steven Campbell Moore) live upstairs while Theresa (Laura Bird) and Jon (David Morrissey) live downstairs. Right from the beginning we are meant to realize that these couples are very different, almost opposites, even though both are fairly wealthy and the men are the sole providers for their pregnant wives. The dinner scene is tension-filled, a standout in the film, due the manner in which calculated closeups are employed and the editing cuts like scalpel. Clearly, these are strangers who do not fit one another but are trying to make it work simply because of their habitation.

But the film does not function as a high-level suspense-thriller since for the most part the writer-director feels the need to keep certain secrets—even to the point where the viewers must question the sanity of the protagonist. This is a trope that is too often employed but are only occasionally effective. In the material’s attempt to hide too many elements, fearing we might guess what’s going on, it keeps us from a distance rather than inviting us and then rewarding us for sticking with it. The secrets, quite frankly, are not at all game-changers nor are the ideas new, fresh, or the least bit surprising.

What results is a project that offers a solid exercise in tone and mood but one that fails to provide a cathartic resolution, a basic factor in strong suspense-thrillers. Despite being less than ninety minutes in duration, by the end one is still likely to feel as though one’s investment does not provide a satisfying return. Even though its aesthetics can be admired, I couldn’t help but wonder what the point of it was.

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