Pregnant Kate (Clémence Poésy) lives with her partner Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) in a flat in London. German Teresa (Laura Birn), who is also pregnant, and her controlling husband Jon (David Morrissey) suddenly move in downstairs. They try to befriend their new neighbours, but tragedy soon strikes and Teresa loses her child, and she blames Kate for the freak accident that caused the miscarriage. Kate then gives birth to a healthy child, but then unexplained events begin to unfold, and the mother becomes increasingly scared for her baby boy.
The Ones Below is about English fears of conviviality and social conventions. David Farr’s first feature film (he had previously directed TV series and short movies) deftly translates the anxieties of a very private and reserved people (the English) into very effective suspense. The film is populated with moments of awkward silence and uncomfortably cordial chatter between neighbours. Various camera shots through glasses add to the tension and the alienation. The English are often uneasy about engaging with people living next to them, with Justin noting that “in London you never meet your neighbours”. You have to look through glassed windows in order to see the people next door or below.
The fear of the outsider (non-English) is also present. Kate and Justin describe Teresa as “something else” and “cooky”, unable to find the word “foreign”. Laura Birn does indeed deliver a bone-chilling and ambiguous performance, which will make you dump your German girlfriend as quickly as possible. She has loud sex, gets naked in a public shower (while Kate keeps her bathing suit on) and insists that Kate breastfeeds in public – actions which still make some English people cringe. In other words, Teresa gets too close to the bone, which makes her creepy, and even scary.
The other three leading actors do a terrific job in incorporating the eerie side of the English. Jon is uptight and anal, always leaving the shoes outside in the same position, while Kate and Justin are too polite to express their real thoughts and feelings towards their neighbours.
Just like Roman Polanki’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), the plot in Farr’s film revolves around a woman scared of losing her child or perhaps going paranoid (it is unclear which until the end of the movie). Both films explore maternal angst and fear of conspiracy to chilling results. Even the seemingly loving husband is at times ambiguous and suspicious, although the John Cassevetes (in Polanski’s film) is far more threatening than the equally handsome Campbell Moore (in the English movie).
The Ones Below premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival followed by the BFI London Film Festival and has been selected for Berlin International Film Festival’s Panorama Section. It is out in cinemas all around the UK on Friday March 11th.