Written for Film and TV Now Nov 2015 (Available here)
From the haunting lullaby that accompanies the opening image of a sonogram, there is an immediate sense of foreboding horror in The Ones Below, of something about to go wrong.
The expecting couple are young professionals Kate (Clémence Poésy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore), who up until now lived comfortably in the upper half of their London flat. Downstairs a new couple have moved in, a bubbly Finnish woman (Laura Birn) and her older, much less congenial husband Jon (David Morrissey). As luck would have it they have a child on the way too.
The soon-to-be mothers are drawn together initially but their differences soon come to light. Kate has doubts about motherhood that are not even comprehended by her desperately maternal neighbour. Theresa (her name even reminds of the renowned ‘Mother’) and Jon have always wanted to have children but it hasn’t been so easy for them. This is in stark contrast to Kate who wasn’t sure that she even wanted to have children, perhaps seeded in the frigid and distant relationship she has with her own mother. The ease with which she has fallen pregnant becomes a matter of discord as a sudden and dramatic turn of events sends the couples’ relationship spiralling into paranoid contempt.
When Kate eventually gives birth, her reluctance is challenged by the relentless demands of her young baby. She soon finds herself sleep-deprived and strung out, suspicious that the couple downstairs are interfering, but how much of this is in her head? While the more villainous qualities of certain characters is shown as schlocky and over-the-top, even for this style of film, it is the more subtle performance of Posey that grounds the horror and creates something interesting.
The Ones Below cleverly uses the divisive attitudes towards pregnancy as a means of finding tension and dividing lines. This is brought out in the way each character dresses, and the ways in which they decorate their apartments even. Where the more laid back and career focussed young couple wear mostly monochrome, smart-casual attire, the ones below are splattered with bright garish colours, a quality which is unsettling, almost laughably so in the case of Jon, whose tall and imposing demeanour is undercut by his pink socks.
The on-the-nose title of David Farr’s directorial debut sounds like A Twilight Zone episode, which is rather fitting for this film which owes a debt to the twisty revenge thrillers of decades past, and not to mention Roman Polanski. Not simply Rosemary’s Baby, which is an undoubted influence, but the others in the Polish director’s Apartment trilogy, and his more recent adaptation Carnage, which examines the volatile dynamic of two middle-class couples as they fight over their children.
Although there are glimpses of these other films, The Ones Below lacks the potency to rival them and instead offers a cheap thriller that descends into pure absurdity. The final act is actually quite fun in the end but it comes at the expense of all seriousness up until this point.