Two couples move in to a quaint duplex and, coincidentally, both are expecting. Kate and Justin (Clemence Poesy and Stephen Campbell Moore) are unassuming and innocently critical. Theresa and Jon (Laura Birn and David Morrissey) are welcoming and intolerably tidy. Their lives initially appear like mirrors with only the slightest light refracted, but the light starts to bend more and more when they sit down for dinner together. And this light can only hope to continue bending away from center as the film progresses.
The first act, culminating in this dinner scene, is structured with precision. The editing may be standard shot-reverse shots, but the compositions are parallels that become less and less parallel as the dinner progresses. This, and the tension ramping up to a final thunder crash of conflict introduced, make for an engaging start to this taut thriller.
As certainly every review discussing this movie has already pointed out, The Ones Below is reminiscent of Polanski at his most tense, a tonal amalgamation of Rosemary’s Baby and the underrated Carnage. It is true, writer-director David Farr channels tension from a prime source, serving up characters in quiet turmoil.
Farr’s first feature length directorial outing is filled with interesting visual and narrative cues as well. A baby and a cat become instant instigators of tension when the camera chooses to linger on them. The repeatedly mentioned garden in the yard becomes a symbol for stability of mind, whether that be in reality or merely as presented. Other visual motifs are subtly present as well, but revealing them would reveal too much of the third act narrative.
Poesy and Birn both give transfixing performances as character foils in a relationship embittered by a singular traumatic event. Poesy, in particular, steals the show as her increasing paranoia gets the best of her.
The Ones Below is a thriller guaranteed to unease from start to finish. It may rely a tad too heavily on Polanski’s horror gem, not to mention throw in a few too many narrative conveniences in the third act, but its acting performances and visual motifs generate enough tension to satisfy any thriller fan.
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews.
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)