THE ONES BELOW
(UK - 2016)
ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and immediately sets an ominous mood, THE ONES BELOW instead aims to be a throwback '90s thriller with the Neighbors from Hell, but it never really catches fire. The chief problem is that it thinks it's the first movie to ever present such a scenario, and as a result, you'll see the twists and reveals coming long before its heroine ever does. Expectant parents Kate (Clemence Poesy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) have had their London flat to themselves for some time since the passing of the elderly downstairs neighbor. That changes when another expectant couple, Jon (David Morrissey) and his Finnish wife Theresa (Laura Birn) move in. Kate and Theresa become fast friends, but a dinner discussion about children gets uncomfortable when Jon and Theresa seem offended that Kate and Justin have been married for ten years and are only now having a child because weren't sure they wanted one. The night ends in rage and grief when the downstairs neighbors go to leave and Theresa trips over Kate's cat in the hallway, taking a nasty tumble down the stairs and losing the baby. Jon and Theresa blame Justin and Kate because the light bulb at the top of the stairs was out, while Kate is quick to point out that Theresa was sneaking glasses of wine behind Jon's back and seemed a little tipsy. With Justin and Kate's baby due to arrive shortly, Jon and Theresa go away to get over their loss and when they return, baby Billy has arrived, apologies are exchanged all around and the neighbors decide to start fresh.
Being around Billy helps Theresa and Jon cope with their loss and their wish to become parents again, but strange things start happening: Billy gets sick from Kate's breast milk, the family arrives home to find the stove left on and the flat filled with gas, their bathtub overflows, and during a dinner downstairs, which is delayed because Jon is running late, Kate swears she hears someone on the baby monitor in Billy's room while the infant is asleep. Kate regularly lets Theresa babysit, and discovers she's been breastfeeding Billy, then finds family pictures with Jon, Theresa, and Billy. She's convinced the downstairs neighbors are plotting to steal Billy to replace the baby they lost and, of course, every time she finds proof, it disappears and she looks insane. It's no secret that Jon and Theresa are gaslighting Kate and turning Justin against his wife, but writer/director David Farr (who scripted HANNA and wrote several episodes of the popular MI-5) doles out the twists in a fairly perfunctory fashion, not bringing much in the way of style or showing any noteworthy skill in generating suspense. This could've been a nail-biting, HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE-meets-ARLINGTON ROAD thriller, but it's so leisurely and predictable that you'll wonder exactly what the point is and why anyone even bothered. There's no momentum, no Polanski-esque sense of encroaching claustrophobia and helplessness as Kate starts going off the deep end to prove that she's not imagining things, that she didn't leave the stove on, that she didn't leave the bath water running. No, it just ambles along and when the big reveals come, you're shrugging because you saw them coming half an hour earlier. It doesn't help that Farr has Morrissey's Jon acting like an overly intense control freak from the moment he's introduced. THE ONES BELOW isn't terrible, but it displays no interest in doing anything out of the ordinary or with any urgency, feeling long even at a brief 86 minutes. It's shrugging ambivalence in feature film form. (R, 86 mins)
(US - 2016)