The Ones Below (2015)

First published by Little White Lies

“You don’t deserve that thing inside you!”

It may be said in the bitter blindness of grief, but this line from The Ones Below, addressed to pregnant Kate (Clémence Poésy) by her neighbour Theresa Baker (Laura Birn), cuts to the very heart of Kate’s anxieties about maternity. A troubled family history and a difficult relationship with her own mother (Deborah Findlay) have meant that Kate has taken 10 years even to consider having a baby with husband Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore). With perfect timing, the similarly pregnant Theresa and her controlling, cleanfreak older husband Jon (David Morrissey) move into the vacant apartment downstairs. Kate immediately warms to Theresa’s devoted enthusiasm – contrasting with Kate’s own hesitancy – for bringing a baby into the world.

“It’s not that it’s ugly,” Kate comments on the Bakers’ newly, too-neatly manicured back lawn, “It’s just that it’s really determined to be a garden.” This determination extends to Jon and Theresa’s life-mission of creating their own picture-perfect nuclear family. When a tragic accident takes that possibility away, the vacuum is filled with a toxic mix of recrimination, envy and covetousness in which their determination will transgress all neighbourly boundaries. For amidst all the usual stresses and pressures of being a parent, Kate is also growing convinced that the Bakers have sinister designs on her newborn – suspicions which seem confirmed by shots, at least some objective, of Theresa’s furtive activities while babysitting.

The screenwriter of 2011’s Hanna, David Farr has previously served as artistic director for a slew of British playhouses, and he brings this theatrical background to the fraught dynamics of his directorial debut, playing as a tightly wound chamber-piece. A tale of two flats, of two pregnancies, and of two colours (muted blues for the Pollards, alarming citron yellows for the Bakers), The Ones Below establishes a dramatic upstairs/downstairs clash of styles and outlooks, before moving into thrilling spaces more familiar from Roman Polanski’s apartment trilogy and Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside (À l’intérieur) (2007). The plot gestates tautly, before the truth, no less harrowing for being expected, comes out.

Anticipation: Not sure what to expect.

Enjoyment: Polanski à l’intérieur.

In Retrospect: Can’t wait to see David Farr’s next baby.

© Anton Bitel