While the title might imply a tale of some unknown creatures lurking underground and waiting to strike, the monsters in David Farr’s The Ones Below are of an entirely different kind. Themes of simmering resentment and grudges that won’t stay buried ride high in the saddle here, and Farr’s feature directorial debut is a clinical exercise in tension that, though effective, sometimes feels a little too detached for its own good.
Kate (Clemence Poesy, Harry Potter) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore, The History Boys) live a life of peaceful domesticity in a comfortable first floor flat where they are expecting their first child. Their simple, contended existence is disrupted by the arrival of Jon (David Morrissey, The Walking Dead) and Teresa (Laura Birn, A Walk Among The Tombstones), a couple expecting a new arrival of their own. A tenative friendship between the two couples is formed (though Kate and Justin seem a little apprehensive), and early in the film, an unfortunate incident after the new neighbours visit for dinner results in Teresa falling down the stairs and ultimately losing her unborn child. What follows is the fallout from that, and how it affects both couples.
The effect that Farr is going for in The Ones Below is obvious. Shot with a Haneke-esque tendency towards the austere, it’s detached to the point of surgical in places, and its across-the-board tonal severity does sometimes have an emotionally neutering effect. For the most part though, it works: there’s a feeling of dread lurking just below the surface here, and strong performances across the board (particularly Moore’s empathetic but increasingly exhausted Justin) mostly safeguard the film from feeling like a soulless (if well-executed) technical exercise. That being said, as the drama amps up as the film nears its end, its effect doesn’t feel quite as resonant as it aspires to be, and the result is that, for all its strengths, The Ones Below feels slightly lacking in bite at the crucial moment.