Audiences will be left guessing right until the end in writer-director David Farr’s enigmatic thriller The Ones Below which features stellar performances from Clémence Poésy and Laura Birn…
David Farr makes his feature film debut as writer-director of The Ones Below. Having cut his teeth scripting the excellent Hanna five years previously, he shows he’s more than at home at the helm. This twisty domestic thriller set predominantly in a London townhouse has various shades of enigmatic intrigue that straddle an indistinct line between the psychological and the pseudo supernatural. Indeed, the story of an expectant mother, the invasive presence of a strange couple, and the fact it all takes place in neighbouring apartments, hints at a demonic tale many audiences will recognise as Rosemary’s Baby. However, while the film shares some common ground with Roman Polanski’s classic horror, Farr ensures The Ones Below has its own twists nestled up its sleeve to satisfyingly – and devastatingly – trample all over parental bliss.
Farr’s choice of music deserves a hearty pat on the back for underlining his statement of intent: something is wrong but we don’t know quite what it is. The director toys with his audience as nice man and wife Kate (Clémence Poésy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) see their initial pleasantries rebuffed by odd couple Theresa and Jon’s (Laura Birn and David Morrissey) evidently strange ways. Yet, our stage is swayed by Kate’s point of view, a first-time mother learning to care for a newborn (her hair isn’t the only thing falling apart), and Farr’s nuggets of character development. The shoes always left at the front door of Theresa and Jon’s front door become an unlikely slice of the macabre, delineating their presence as if it is something to be wary of, for example. Then there’s the appearance of Theresa’s possibly subservient relationship with Jon, and the revelation of a very nasty streak following some life-changing news.
Farr’s approach to present the natural as potentially unnatural is what gets under the skin. It’s where The Ones Below really excels as we question whether we’re seeing threatening behaviour or the interpretation of menace as realised through new mother Kate. There’s therefore added emphasis on Poésy, the Paris-born actress whose rarely been better. There’s a tenderness to her young mother that is at once devoted to her child but fragile in the face of life’s biggest change. It’s this delicate characterisation that makes her role as fascinating as our prescribed antagonist’s cryptic motivation.
Certainly, it’s the talents of the female stars that elevate The Ones Below’s dramatic intrigue. Laura Birn as Theresa offers a very different type of woman; confident in herself, flirtatious, and, perhaps most interestingly, besotted with the idea of motherhood. It counters Kate’s timid nature and self-consciousness. It’s a dynamic that burns at the centre of this well-oiled thriller that perhaps only really suffers at the hands of David Morrissey’s over-ripe performance whose lack of subtlety threatens to derail the whole thing. Ultimately, however, Farr has produced a film that genuinely unnerves; one in which audiences will be left guessing until the very end.