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Review: Thriller ‘The Ones Below’ ably echoes early Polanski

Laura Birn and David Morrissey in the movie "The Ones Below."
(Magnet Releasing)

Capably delivering on its ominous title, “The Ones Below” is a masterfully calibrated psychological thriller that deviously plays off of anxieties surrounding contemporary notions of domesticity and identity.

When the long-vacated lower apartment in their English home is finally occupied, newly expectant couple Kate (Clémence Poésy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) initially welcome the prospect of having new neighbors.

As it turns out, the exotic, beautiful Theresa (Laura Birn, channeling young Tippi Hedren) and her older, controlling husband, Jon (David Morrissey), a banker, are also soon-to-be first-time parents, but their arrival serves to magnify Kate and Justin’s own marital tensions while eating away at Kate’s already fragile maternal self-worth.

While thematically and stylistically reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s 1960s output, most notably, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Tenant” with echoes of “Repulsion,” first-time filmmaker David Farr, a successful screenwriter whose credits include the Saoirse Ronan crime drama “Hanna,” proves to be more than an apt pupil.

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The chillingly twisty plotting is dispensed in painstakingly measured increments that allow for maximum dread and, ultimately, well-earned shock value, while his four leads deliver equally subtle performances that sync with the pacing beat for beat.

Especially effective are France’s Poésy and Finland’s Birn, whose slippery, constantly shifting dynamic — one subverted by elements of guilt and creeping paranoia on Kate’s side — will ensure the edge of your seat is put to good use before you hurry to your front door and burn the welcome mat.

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‘The Ones Below’

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MPAA rating: R for language, some sexuality and nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: Landmark Nuart Theatre, West L.A.; also on VOD


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