Strong performances can’t help the mediocre ‘The Ones Below’

Foreign Film.jpg

Here’s a good litmus test for average movies: a day after the credits roll, how much can you remember? I’ll tell you what I remember from “The Ones Below.” I remember an awkward dinner party, too many knocks at the characters’ door to count, and a botched ending. It’s frustrating to watch overqualified actors try to make a stale script fresh even though they succeed time and time again.

Adding onto the frustration, director David Farr has a good sense of tension and atmosphere. He’s got a claustrophobic style, chock full of close-ups and some intricate framing. He follows simple set-ups through beautifully, like the titular neighbors shoes outside their door, and constantly plays with what those images mean. But the script is an unexceptional, faux-Hitchcockian bore.

Clemence Poesy as Kate and Stephen Campbell Moore as Justin deserve meatier material. They’re talents are mostly wasted here. Same goes for their co-stars David Morrissey as Jon and Laura Birn as Theresa. Morrissey’s Jon is an explosive presence, crafting tension with eyebrow raises and steely glares. His relationship with Theresa is deeply messed up. Both yearn to be parents, and, after months of trying, they’re successful.

They move in below our protagonists, the soon-to-be parents Kate and Justin. To welcome them, the couple invites Jon and Theresa over for dinner. It’s one of the best scenes in the movie, so I’ll leave the details scant, but Theresa ends up falling down the complex’s stairs and suffering a miscarriage. They leave soon after to grieve, only to return a few months later. After their return, Kate and Justin’s life begins falling apart, and neither knows why.

The answer is obvious. That’s the worst flaw in the movie. It plays like its secret is well-hidden, but no misdirection is even attempted. Everything points to Jon and Theresa. Past a point, the movie accepts that the viewer knows what’s up and changes directions. Spoiler alert: Jon and Theresa gaslight Kate to the point of her relationship crumbling. But it’s so lazy that it throws the movie off-balance.

Finishing the job, the terrible ending turns the whole thing over. Without spoiling anything, there’s an abrupt change in perspective right at the end. It acts like what’s happening isn’t obvious, and drags the viewer along to the least surprising “reveal” in a long time. “The Ones Below” acts like it’s clever, but really, it’s just another missed opportunity.