Don’t call it post-partum depression. Frankly, Kate Griezmann has always been moody and she long had her doubts regarding parenthood (as has her husband, Justin). Her motherly instincts might have developed late, but they kick in with full force when she suspects their rather odd neighbors represent danger for her newborn son in British theater director-screenwriter David Farr’s feature directorial debut, The Ones Below (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
Griezmann is very pregnant during the first act, as is her new neighbor in the duplex flat below. The Nordic Theresa is over-joyed (and perhaps somewhat relieved) by her pregnancy, whereas Griezmann is still maybe convincing herself she is okay with it. The two women form a bond through their shared experiences, even though Theresa’s blunt-spoken husband Jon makes little secret of his contempt for her attitude. Evidently they have been trying for years, which makes it especially painful when a freak accident leads to Theresa’s miscarriage.
As if matters were not awkward enough, Jon directly blames them for the accident. Frankly, there is more than enough blame to go around for Theresa’s tumble down the stairs, but that is not what the severe control freak wants to hear. Fortunately, their overwrought neighbors temporarily depart from London, allowing Kate and Justin space to adjust to parenthood and themselves time to grieve. Everything seems all better when they return. Jon is still Jon, but Theresa becomes a regular sitter Griezmann’s little gurgler. In fact, she might even have better rapport with the infant, whereas mothering just seems to take a lot out of Griezmann. Of course, there might be a nefarious reason for the physical exhaustion and mental haze enveloping her.
Ones Below is a slickly sinister film, but its biggest problem is the lack of narrative maneuvering room Farr leaves himself. As a result, we basically expect all the big twists after the first half hour. Still, there is something insidiously telling about the film’s social-generational conflicts, with early 30’s Griezmann’s ambivalent attitudes towards home and hearth contrasting with the yearning of the fifty-ish Jon.
As Jon, David Morrissey is one cool, menacing customer. However, Laura Birn (excellent in the Finnish Oscar submission Purge) is the film’s lynchpin and showstopper. As Theresa, she shows a multitude of dimensions, constantly keeping us off balance. Unfortunately, Clémence Poésy never adequately humanizes Griezmann before her wheels start coming off, while Stephen Moore Campbell is utterly inconsequential as her ineffectual hubby.