No such thing as being good neighbors anymore.
The psychological thriller THE ONES BELOW looks at a couple who experiences terrifying events with their neighbors downstairs after a horrific accident.
The film stars Clemence Poesy, David Morrissey, Stephen Campbell Moore and Laura Birn. It’s directed by David Farr.
Latino-Review had an exclusive phone interview with Farr earlier this month to discuss the twists and turns of the film, parenthood and the cast.
THE ONES BELOW is showing as a limited release in specific theaters and available on VOD today.
Read the transcript below.
Latino-Review: Congratulations on this cool psychological thriller for THE ONES BELOW. How does it feel that your film festival circuit run is about to end? And how great is it to have it release to a wider audience soon?
David Farr: It’s a wonderful moment. To reach America for a British film is a real honor. The festival circuit is extremely a new thing for me. I’ve been a theater director and writer for pretty much twenty years. The whole experience as a film director and writer is new. I didn’t realize on how wonderful this thing is. We’ve been to Toronto, Berlin and London. All these festivals are all so different. Everyone watches the film in a different way. Each city is wonderful in their own ways, which is clearly should be attended.
The way on how films are distributed and released is changing rapidly. Obviously, cinema is still the place to see movies. Nothing is better than seeing a 90-minute narrative told in a movie house whether it is very funny or scary. You get to share this with the people around you. The reality is that this is a different world for small films. Otherwise, it is fantastic.
Latino-Review: When I watched the film, it felt like a psychological Hitchcock type of film. You mentioned that a lot of people watched the film and got different reactions. What are some of the other reactions to this film?
David Farr: Before I answer that question—you are right. The film is in the tradition of a Hitchcock psychological thriller with strong elements of suspense. It does have a fairytale quality. Perhaps, it’s a little different to your classic Hitchcock. The idea came along in the middle of the night in a dream state. I held on to that quality as much as I could in the writing and the directing. It’s interesting to me as I imagine it that it didn’t look like naturalistic world, but with a strange, fairytale quality.
It’s like having two princesses. One of the princesses sees the other outside the window. It’s like one princess can see the other princess outside of her tower playing in the garden. I held on very kindly to that.
In some cultures, they really enjoyed explored that form. The Germans were really into the Freudian readings of that in the way of fairytales. None of them, for example, would look at the same film in the way in America. There is a social comedy element, in which comedy and horror aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s very helpful to have a little bit of both. THE SHINING is strangely funny at times. It uses dark humor to create suspense. There is a social comedy element in the simple strangeness of labors that you don’t know like how to invite them to dinner?
There are other elements to the movie that other people have enjoyed. It fundamentally fits in a well-established genre tradition, which I love. I’m very proud of that.
Latino-Review: Did you expect different audiences to react differently to your movie? Was that okay with you?
David Farr: Very much so. I’m used to like with theatrical plays. You will get different levels of laughter from night to night. It’s very strange. It’s the chemistry that you can’t control it at times. That is possibly true even in films. Sometimes I can find a film very funny and the Germans could watch the same thing to be hilarious. London audiences can treat this as being on the edge of their seats. It’s very strange reactions all around, but I really, really enjoy.
It also makes a huge difference on how you watch the film. Do you watch it with your partner? Do you watch it on your own? Do you watch it in a full house? Do you watch it in an empty house? The idea of how you watch it in a theater really matters, particularly this kind of movie. It’s not a Sledgehammer kind of film. It’s a quiet, subtle film. It’s sensitive to different conditions.
Latino-Review: What kind of different expectations for the American audiences?
David Farr: I really don’t know. It’s difficult for being far away, because I can’t feel the chemistry over there. It’s a small film. The most important thing is that we have a release. I really love American cinema. I want to make more movies in that tradition, but bring in my British and European sensibilities to it. It remains a fertile cinema in the past. How many European filmmakers come to Hollywood to make that perfect film? It’s the landscape in America that I love and adore. I would love to make a movie in America one day, which is a wonderful tradition to be buying into.
There is a fairytale quality that American cinema often has. Such as GONE GIRL is a great and popular movie. It has a fairytale quality of the American life. Americans invest into that fairytale idea of what life should be. It’s the family life and American dream, in which the British doesn’t have and we’re much more of a world weary bunch.
The landscape of American cinema is still huge with great potential there. I’m very proud that my little English film is going to be a part of it.
Latino-Review: Out of curiosity, where did the original idea come from?
David Farr: It came as I was talking to a friend of mine about parenthood. He had a really tough experience with his partner with the baby being really ill in the middle of London. No one quite believed on how ill that baby was. They felt very isolated and terribly alone. They were so timely afraid.
It really hit home to me. Obviously, I had kids too. I remembered that feeling, particularly on the birth with the mother. It’s on how nakedly vulnerable a person will be. I felt that primal fear in that moment. It’s a genuine fear that we don’t know on what’s going to happen. Is it going to be okay? No one really knows.
It’s all about that little controlled, anxious modern lives. It’s the incredible things we do, but it’s the most frightening. Suddenly, it hit me really hard. When I went to be bed, it came out as a semi-subconscious idea really. The ideas were milling around and it really came out of the story. I’ve always been the storyteller. It didn’t came out of painting or music, but the story of two couples worrying about the other.
Latino-Review: You’ve covered the female perspectives in motherhood well in the movie, especially with the two actresses. Was it difficult writing the female characters perspectives, especially being a man?
David Farr: Yeah, I’m in my forties now and as I get older—I’m writing more and more female characters. I’m much more competent in doing so. To be honest, I’m much more interested in writing about women than writing about men at the moment. It may change. But, there was a period in which I wrote a lot about misunderstood men. [Laughter]
HANNA became very helpful as a film. It’s a different kind of female icon. I found it very liberating writing her. Since then, I’ve written more and more on these female characters.
As I came down to it, I decidedly knew that [the film] will not be about two men, but about two women who are pregnant. They never met before and happen to live in the same apartment building. They incredibly became close and very intimate. It’s very quickly in a way many pregnant women do. That closeness and intimacy will prove to be highly dangerous to one of them.
I found out that idea is very potent and I stuck to that. Obviously, I had some influences from my executive producer, line producer and production designer—being all mothers. I used a lot of female [feedback] to make sure everything is reasonable.
Latino-Review: Now talk about Clemence [Poesy] in this role. Most of us only knows her through the HARRY POTTER films.
David Farr: Absolutely, she is a wonderful actress. She is French, of course. She has an extraordinary ability to change her accent. She did well on her screen test. She wanted to show herself that she could do this in English. She has this remarkable internal quality. Very intense. She let the camera come to her.
My only worry in the film that Kate in an English or British film to come with a mild-mannered performance. They typically are middle-class and mild-mannered. That would make her less sympathetic and less interesting. It turned out to be a French performance entirely in English. They let the camera come to them and their intensity is extraordinary. It’s not manifested to the obviously.
She has that quality. She’s still young. She’s only in her early thirties. She often gets cast in these little pretty girl roles—which is somewhat limiting. Once she gets into the opportunities to get into the deeper places, she will excel.
Latino-Review: The other actress, Lauren Birn, is Finnish?
David Farr: Yeah, she’s Finnish. A firebomb. She has fantastic energy. They got along incredibly well. Such as great actress and reminds me of Ingrid Bergman. It’s the wonderful Scandinavian intensity along with being funny and light. She comes in differently than with Clemence. That difference is quite interesting, I think.
She’s definitely an extrovert and it’s all what I wanted. She came off as an extrovert, highly confident person. She is totally convinced to be a wonderful mother. She is highly convinced with her ability to love, in which none of it turns out to be true. With Kate, she is deeply skeptical and questions on whether she should be doing any of motherhood thing at all.
Latino-Review: I’m curious. Being a British director and with this in a British setting—why didn’t you go with an all-British cast?
David Farr: Well, Theresa was always the foreign character. She was going to be from a different part of Europe. I needed that Jon, played by David Morrissey, needed to meet her somewhere else. It’s narratively very important and so it was never in question.
It was interesting on why Kate wasn’t being played by someone who is English. It goes back to what I said about the slight anxiety I had. To Americans it may be strange, but we have the strange ability to judge people based on class. On what Clemence had, weirdly, was a class-less perception. She didn’t appear to come from a particular class. And that’s because she isn’t British.
It’s extraordinary. I cannot explain it to someone from the outside. It’s a uniquely weird quality of Britain. It’s why we could always produce good period dramas about class. Within seconds of meeting someone, we could make judgements about a person’s character. As for Clemence, she is from France. He accent is of this learned voice. So she doesn’t have any of that class [pre-judgements].
Of course, London, as a city, is full of non-native people like New York. There are plenty of French, Spanish and German. So we can now imagine that the character has a father who is French-Jewish and her mother is British. It’s now a completely normal entity. I wanted to move from that hackly idea of the old London. It’s much more truthful to on what a modern city really is.
Latino-Review: You mentioned that you are a theater director. How was the transitioned and how was that overall experience?
David Farr: It was truly the most wonderful experience in my life. Theater is an extraordinary thing to do as a director. It’s intense and very rewarding. It’s incredibly hard work. You’ll have to be that person to crack the whip. And I don’t really enjoy in cracking that whip.
So I was really happy to get the opportunity as director [in the film]. It allows me to sit back and think about on what I wanted. There is a wonderful collaborative team who is going to help in delivering that. And they even brought beyond what I wanted in wonderful ways.
It’s an intense experience. You have a limited budget for around six weeks. You have to make everything counts. Everyone knows that. We were in a house in East London for most of the time. The house became our friend. It became the fifth character or sixth character if you included the baby. It was hugely important.
We were in there for a long time and could’ve gotten mad to kill each other. It became a rehearsal room and constant generations of ideas. It was a great experience. I had wonderful I’ve worked with, particularly my cameraman, Ed Rutherford, who produced wonderful colors for me. It was something I knew I wanted, but I wasn’t sure if it was possible.
Now the editing experience is something I worried the most. It’s time to take a step back and make sure the director could make this work. This part is probably the biggest learning curve.
Latino-Review: Funniest thing or perhaps strange thing is that I’ve actually connected with the cat a bit in your movie. I felt sorry for the cat.
David Farr: [Laughter] It’s amazing the audiences have emotions for animals. It’s animals over babies. How about that?
Latino-Review: There are plenty of twists and turns in the movie—it’s all quite enjoyable. Let me end this conversation with this one last question—it’ll be the tagline of the movie. How well do you know your neighbors?
David Farr: I used to be in the exact situation like the people in the film are. It’s now quite the opposite as I live on this little street and I have a 92-year-old who I know extremely well. The entire neighborhood looks after her. On the other side, I have two, who I would call, aging hippies. My life had changed a little bit.
I did have a strong particularly memory back then of a man who lived below and don’t quite know on what he was doing. He was absolutely terrifying. A lot those memories did affect this movie.
Latino-Review: [Laughter] Well, I entirely enjoyed the movie. Thanks for the experience of your film and good luck to your future projects.
David Farr: Thank you for your questions.
THE ONES BELOW is showing as a limited release in specific theaters and available on VOD today.