ECHOES of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby are evident from the first scene of flawed but nevertheless chilling horror-tinged Brit thriller The Ones Below. It follows a young professional couple, Justin (Stephen Campell Moore) and Kate (Clémence Poésy), who are expecting their first baby, coinciding with a couple who move into the flat below them who are also pregnant.
Being neighbourly, Justin and Kate invite their new neighbours – the stern and vehemently protective Jon (a particularly disquieting David Morrissey) and his sociable Finish wife Teresa (Laura Birn) – up for dinner. But what starts as an innocuous getting-to-know-each-other meal soon turns sour after a tragic accident, leading to increasingly fraught coexistence between the two couples as they try their best to get on with their lives.
The first film from experienced playwright David Farr is an intriguing one, looking at primal fears of distrust of strangers, what may lie beneath the surface of how a person presents themself and the misplaced fear that someone is out to harm a pregnant mother’s unborn baby.
But it’s a film that’s more successful at prodding those themes than it is at fully exploring them, something which may be down to Farr’s inexperience behind the camera. His theatrical background is evident in a film that, while achieved with a keen sense of fearful atmosphere, feels quite stagey in nature.
Much like Rosemary’s Baby, our entryway into the story is an expectant mother whose increasingly fragile and steadily deteriorating mental state becomes a source of paranoia and disharmony – we’re never quite sure whether what’s happening is genuine or not. It’s this sense of uncertainty that keeps the film dramatically afloat when the thin, overly familiar characterization and frankly ridiculous twists and turns in the last act threaten to pull you out of believing in a world that the film has initially worked so hard to make feel genuine.
Although the execution of its ideas might lack the polished punch of some of its mighty cinematic influences, there’s an undeniable sense of claustrophobia and unsettling paranoia to The Ones Below that makes it worth a look if not much more than that.