In creating an indelible, disquieting tone within the thriller genre, having a truly unpredictable and volatile protagonist makes for a good start. In David Farr’s The Ones Below – though certainly a flawed piece, as we embody a role with such an unreliable, fragile state of mind – it helps to inform and dictate the elusive atmosphere on show, as we struggle to determine whether or not the lead is genuinely witnessing psychological abuse to her family (complete with a newborn son), or if her antenatal depression has manifested into a dangerous sense of paranoia.
Kate is played by Clémence Poésy, who gives birth to her first child with her partner Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) – a joyous, celebratory occasion for the couple, but not quite so much for their new downstairs neighbours Jon (David Morrissey) and Teresa (Laura Birn), who long for a child of their own. Though initially civil, when Kate begins to suspect the eccentric pair have been playing mind games with her family, tensions mount between the two households, while Justin attempts to figure out if his wife’s claims are genuine, or whether this is all in her head.
The Ones Below may struggle from a lack of character development, but it must be commended for the uncomfortable tone of the piece, helped along by the brilliant score which turns what could be considered a somewhat placid narrative – with little to feel genuinely uneasy about in the early stages – into something so intense and suspenseful, showing just how prominent and essential music is to a feature film. Farr uses very real, human fears as a means of playing up to the devices of the thriller genre, similarly to how Australian production The Babadook managed in adopting the tropes of the archetypal horror. We tap into a very primal fear, using the babies distinct vulnerability as a means of evoking terror.
However, for any such positives that derive from this chilling psychological affair, it feels too similar to a stage play, not truly enlarging as a cinematic experience, being more in line with the debutant director’s background in theatre. There is much scope to this narrative certainly, but with a lacklustre screenplay and somewhat wooden performances, it fails to quite live up to its distinct potential.