I have been watching a lot of British stuff lately, haven’t I? Well, I would rate ‘The Ones Below’ over ‘Tower Block’. It feels like this kind of thriller is one that both the British and American film industry can do well. However, the ending is where we see the biggest difference. You’ll see what I mean.
The plot follows a nice young couple, Kate (Clemence Poesy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) who are expecting their first child. One day, they notice that they have new neighbours who have moved into the apartment downstairs. They to are a couple, Theresa (Laura Birn) and Jon (David Morrissey) and they are also expecting their first child. In fact, Kate and Theresa are only a few weeks apart, something they bond over. Kate and Justin invite Theresa and Jon upstairs for dinner but the night ends in tragedy when Theresa falls down the stairs and loses her baby. Jon blames Kate and Justin’s cat as the cause of the incident which causes a rift between the two couples and as a result, Theresa and Jon move away.
Time goes by and Kate gives birth to a baby boy who she names Billy but soon after Billy’s birth, Jon and Theresa return, seemingly having recovered from the grief of losing their child. However, strange things begin to happen around Kate and Billy which drives Kate’s mental health further towards breaking point until the inevitable disaster occurs.
The more I watch American thiller/horror films, the more I notice the differences in the delivery when I compare it to the same genre from the UK. The portrayal of Kate and Justin are a prime example. If this film were made in America, Kate and Justin would be portrayed as the perfect couple. They both have great jobs and they are very much in love. On the opposite side, Jon and Theresa would be portrayed as being lower down the social chain, a couple who our main characters interact with purely because they live in close proximity to each other.
Actually, Kate and Justin are shown to be a normal couple. Couples don’t have to constantly display affection to show that they’re in love. Real couples in a long term relationship bicker with each other which any couples watching can relate to. Kate and Justin bicker with each other even before the whole drama starts.
However, the roles are reversed. I couldn’t even begin to fathom either of Kate or Justin’s jobs and but Theresa and Jon seem to be better off financially. Jon definitely loves his wife but also seems to be the controlling when it comes to her behaviour, especially during the dinner. They have an odd quirk (seemingly at Jon’s insistence) of taking their shoes off outside of any given premises. For example, when Theresa arrives, she takes off her shoes and places them to the side of the front door but when Jon arrives a moment later, he too takes off his shoes but places both his shoes and Theresa’s shoes directly in front of the door. Immediately I thought, ‘that’s an accident waiting to happen’. And it was.
Even during dinner, Theresa is offered a glass of wine but doesn’t want to drink and although Kate reinforces that pregnant women are allowed a glass with meals, she still declines. This annoys me as a non-drinker. It’s not that I’m vehemently against drinking, I just don’t like alcohol but when I’m offered a drink at a social gathering and I politely decline, it’s almost like it’s being pushed on me. The conversation should go, ‘Would you like a glass of wine?’, ‘No thank you, I don’t drink.’ And that’s it. Move on.
Theresa declines the wine in front of her husband but when his back is turned, she does have a few glasses to the point where she gets a bit tipsy. That decision is a bit suspect to me. Theresa clearly states that she and Jon have been desperate to start a family and have been trying to get pregnant for seven years. Now it’s happened and they’re over the moon. Why have a lot of alcohol and risk jeopardising the pregnancy? Theresa and Jon are also irked when they discover that Justin and Kate have been together for 10 years and only recently decided they wanted to start a family with Kate getting pregnant rather quickly.
When it comes time to leave, Theresa is unsteady on her feet and on her way out of the door, I don’t think it’s immediately obvious if she fell over her shoes or Kate and Justin’s cat. This detail is important because an important plot point and a reason for the rift between the couples is who is to blame. One could argue that it was a chain of events from both parties that ended in disaster but personally, I think having so much to drink wasn’t the best idea and also putting those shoes in front of the door didn’t help.
Naturally, Theresa and Jon are devastated and angry about losing their child. In a tense confrontation with Kate and Justin, they accuse the pair of being responsible for the accident. Kate and Justin defend themselves and when Theresa’s drinking is brought up, Jon denies that his wife was drinking and Theresa lies about drinking. I thought she did this because she would be afraid of her husband’s reaction and that may still be the case. The encounter ends with Theresa accusing Kate of not appreciating her baby. Afterwards, Theresa and Jon move away and in a note, they explain that they will return when they can be happy about Kate and Justin’s baby.
Kate gives birth to baby Billy and Theresa and Jon return with gifts and an apology for how they behaved. Instantly, I’m thinking ‘They’re up to something’. And I’m totally confused as to what the film wants us to think. I was assuming to be more psychological. Let me explain.
As soon as Theresa and Jon return, strange things begin happening around Kate. A specific points, Billy has trouble sleeping which keeps Kate awake and as soon as she gets him to sleep, a car alarm goes off outside which wakes him up and frustrates her more. This causes her to accept Theresa’s previous offers to babysit for Kate. Whilst he is in Theresa’s care, she breastfeeds him. As I understand it, with babies, breastfeeding is an extreme connection between the baby and the mother as ‘calming hormones’ are passed between mother and baby. Therefore, Theresa is telling Billy that he can feel comfortable around her which makes him feel less comfortable around Kate.
I honestly thought this film was going to be more psychological. I feel like the film knows the audience knows that Jon and Theresa are behind the odd happenings but doesn’t try to make them think otherwise.
Jon and Theresa invite Kate and Justin downstairs to their apartment for dinner (because the last dinner between the four of them ended so well) and because they want an evening out, Kate and Justin put Billy to bed and go downstairs, taking a baby monitor with them. Whilst Justin is outside with Theresa, Kate hears some heavy breathing through the baby monitor and is convinced that the absent Jon is upstairs. She runs upstairs to find Billy is alone and fine, but the bath is running, and her apartment is flooded. Kate does mention that she wanted to have a bath but changed her mind and swears that she turned off the taps. Serious doubts about her mental health are brought up.
Towards the end, there’s a critical moment where Kate had the chance to flip the lid on all of Theresa and Jon’s shadiness. At this point, Kate suspects what the audience already knows. When Kate hands Billy over to Theresa, she and Jon take him out and act as if he is their son. You could argue that their actions are driven by their grief but that’s still a really creepy thing to do with someone else’s child without their knowledge.
Anyway, Kate’s suspicions get the better of her so as a ruse, she asks Theresa to babysit then runs back upstairs to watch her take Billy out into the back garden where she was sunbathing, place him on a blanket and take pictures of him. Then she witnesses Theresa place Billy on her breast. All Kate had to do was take pictures of this with her phone, show Justin and use it as evidence to get a restraining order. Instead, Kate sneaks into Theresa and Jon’s apartment, finds the camera which contains not only the pictures of Billy in the garden but also the ‘family’ pictures of Theresa, Jon and Billy. Kate also finds the nursery that Jon and Theresa set for their child who they were going to name ‘Peter’ but she sees a photo on the wall of Theresa and Jon holding Billy as if they’re a happy family.
Again, all Kate had to do was take the camera, show Justin and use the evidence to get a restraining order. Instead, she drags Justin into their apartment and of course by that time, they know that she’s been in there and deleted the pictures off the camera as well as taking down the picture in the nursery. When Theresa is confronted about the pictures she took of Billy in the garden (but not the breastfeeding), Theresa presents Kate and Justin with a nice picture of Billy in a frame for them to take home. Awkward.
By now, Kate is distraught and begs Justin to move. He agrees but whilst it’s all being organised, Justin receives an email from Kate while he’s at work that says that she’s sorry. He rushes home to fine her dead in the bathtub having apparently taken her own life and Billy is missing. He runs down to the canal and finds their baby buggy. Justin is now convinced that Kate threw Billy into the canal and then killed herself. In the aftermath, Justin moves away and so do Jon and Theresa.
However, I knew exactly what really happened. Kate was drugged by Jon and drowned in the tub whilst Theresa went out in Kate’s clothes and threw a bundle (possibly Kate and Justin’s cat) into the river.
Jon and Theresa then move to Germany with their new baby, ‘Peter’.
Altogether, I thought the ending was good despite the fact I could see it coming a mile away. Think of the ending we would have had if this had been made in the US. There probably would have been a big fight scene where Jon and Theresa are either arrested or killed and Kate and Justin would live happily ever after with baby Billy… if Justin isn’t killed.
The budget for ‘The Ones Below’ was just over £2 Million but it must have had a limited release since it only made $42,951 but the reviews were favourable.
I did like this film. I like ‘low key’ British thrillers and if you weren’t bothered that I spoiled the ending for you, I recommend it… (insert funny ending here).
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