When I was like 12 years old, my young (impressionable) friends and I watched The Hand That Rocks the Cradle; Rebecca De Mornay is so gloriously evil in that movie that we ended up watching it all the damn time — much to the chagrin of my mother, I assume, who got real tired (real fast) of having to see this movie about a million damn times. What can I say? She was kind of a saint that way.
Looking back, unsurprisingly, it's pretty easy to see that The Hand That Rocks the Cradle isn't really a terrific movie — although it's still pretty solid for a 90's thriller. Certainly it boasted some fairly well-known cast (Ernie Hudson and Julianne Moore — whom my regular readers know that I absolutely hate, in particular.) but, the plot is actually pretty convoluted, which is saying a lot for the thriller genre as it is usually so amenable to complex plots built of multiple layers of story. Here's the gist:
Pregnant woman is sexually assaulted by her OBGYN. Woman presses charges, more women come forward, and the doctor takes the "shotgun to the mouth" way out of it — leaving behind a pregnant widow who miscarries the baby and has a hysterectomy leaving her barren and bent on revenge. The angry widow then becomes the pregnant woman's nanny and in true Single White Female fashion, decides she'll take over the pregnant woman's life — replacing her and essentially getting an "instant family." Toss in the "bitchy friend" and the "devoted husband" along with the "young daughter" and the "retarded handyman" and you've really got the entire cast. What you probably don't need me to write here is that the angry widow comes to a painful end and the pregnant woman lives happily ever after with her family. You know the next bit — "and there was much rejoicing."
Enter today's movie (you now — the actual reason for this post.): The Ones Below. The Ones Below is a little British thriller from first time director David Farr. The gist of this one is pretty simple: a young married couple gets pregnant and then gets some mysterious new downstairs neighbors. Surprise! The lady downstairs is quite pregnant as well. The upstairs wife befriends the downstairs wife and some neighborly behavior ensues. Unfortunately, the downstairs couple shows themselves to be a bit strange — not Rosemary's Baby strange — but still, there is something "off" about them. One tense dinner and a few too many drinks later, the downstairs wife takes a tumble that can only lead to a miscarried baby — and this here is when things really go wrong. The downstairs couple literally begin driving the upstairs wife insane, eventually killing her and taking her baby for themselves. If nothing else, this one is a great reminder not to let strangers into your home.
Nothing about this one is particularly bad — aside from Stephen Cambell Moore's "emotional break down" scene in which his acting is just terrible and David Morrissey's perpetual munching on the scenery. In fact, overall, I really liked the theatrical surrealist aesthetics that Farr's theatre background brought to the table. There was this Edward Scissorhands look to the backyard — something plastic and lighted like a retro 50's photoshoot. I feel like Farr used this visual trick to really emphasize the gap between classes — the upstairs neighbors being middle-class while the downstairs neighbors are upper-class. (What a clever reversal, no?)
By turning the upper-class couple's outdoor sanctuary into a manufactured paradise presented alongside their murderous intent, Farr is able to reiterate that old cliché that money may buy things but it can't buy happiness, morals, or ethical human behavior. It also creates a reflection of the perception the middle-class neighbors have of their upper-class neighbor's lives; everything is perfect and polished and desirable. That desire is also central to the story here — Kate and Justin really do want to be those rich downstairs neighbors but in the end, Teresa and Jon become Kate and Justin. With all that perfection around Teresa and Jon, all they want is a baby and all Kate and Jon want is the perfection without the baby. It really is a tangled web that Farr has woven here, just below the surface of a simple thriller.
I won't give this one an A+ or anything, but I certainly respect Farr's nod to the great classic thrillers of the 1950's.
You can watch the trailer for The Ones Below here:
And if you're really interested in owning a sort of slow, awkward thriller, you can buy a copy of The Ones Below here: