THE ONES BELOW Review
Director: David Farr
Emulating the paranoid, one-location trappings of Polanski, THE ONES BELOW is an attempt to update ROSEMARY’S BABY for modern viewers, taking a decidedly less supernatural spin on the narrative, but maintaining much of the same maddening spectacle. Following a British couple that is expecting, THE ONES BELOW tracks the growing suspicion that the pregnant couple’s downstairs neighbors are attempting to snatch away their child. Director David Farr confidently controls the screen, taking advantage of his two female leads, but occasionally stumbling in the process by relying just a little too heavily on the tropes of yesteryear.
Joel Edgerton’s THE GIFT is arguably Farr’s closest peer, because despite the obvious inspirations from Polanski, Farr and Edgerton share a desire to delve equally into the mystique of the perfect crime as they do developing the protagonist’s isolation from her surroundings. Unfortunately, where THE GIFT attempted to update its structure with more complex, empathetic motivations, THE ONES BELOW is blatantly black-and-white in execution, making for narrative beats that are frustratingly predictable.
“Ugh, so you wanna kidnap my child? Don’t you have Oysters to eat or something?”
As lead actress Clémence Poésy tumbles deeper and deeper into her rabbit hole of despair, her husband loses more and more of her trust. It’s a well-worn tactic and it begins to feel undeniably dated in this day and age, but that doesn’t change the fact that the film is surprisingly tense in its growing disconnect between subjective reality and truth. Unfortunately, both male protagonists feel decidedly more two-dimensional than their female counterparts, serving no real narrative purpose other than creating a greater dissociation between Poésy and the people around her.
If anything, THE ONES BELOW boasts a unique visual expression, lit brightly with high saturation. It doesn’t always work to heighten the sense of unease, often resulting in somewhat of a soap opera aesthetic, but it makes for enough of a deviation from Polanski’s approach to make for something intriguingly discomforting. Unlike its genre contemporaries — or even its poster for that matter — Farr presents his film as squarely non-horror. As such, the suspense is rarely accomplished in color palette or visual tone, but rather through its plodding editing, eerie characters, and subjective camerawork.
“Are we scary yet? Please tell us we’re scary now.”
While not necessarily branching out and accomplishing anything new that hasn’t been done before, THE ONES BELOW is certainly worth recommending to any thriller fans. Entertaining, often nail-biting, and successfully cashing in on all of Polanski’s classic tropes, it’s more of an entertaining VOD experience than a film that can help further cement Farr’s reputation as a director. Similar to his previous outing, HANNA, Farr has created a compelling film, but one that needs a stronger, unique directorial voice in order to make him a filmmaker worth keeping an eye out for in the future.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend