No matter how in control and successful someone becomes in their career and personal relationships, they often start to want more when they witness the seemingly perfect lives of their peers. Many people tend to become envious of their neighbors’ contrasting personality traits, even if their circumstances aren’t necessarily better than their own, and they’re going through a similar situation. That’s certainly the case with the two seemingly prosperous married couples in the new thriller, ‘The Ones Below.’ The spouses become overwhelmed by something they all thought they wanted throughout their at-times tumultuous relationships that after they meet, they begin envying each other’s seemingly perfect lives.

Accomplished British television and film writer, theatrical director and Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, David Farr, proved his natural ability to chronicle the doubts people begin to form about themselves in his feature film directorial debut. Magnolia Pictures’ genre division, Magnet Releasing, distributed the compelling examination into the competitive nature people form when they feel their livelihood is threatened, in theaters and on demand this weekend.

‘The Ones Below’ chronicles how the lives of two couples become fatally intertwined. Kate (Clémence Poésy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) live in the upstairs flat of a London house. Thirty-something, successful and affluent, they are expecting their first baby. All appears well on the surface, although Kate harbors deep-rooted fears about her fitness to be a mother and her ability to love her child.

Kate’s fears about her capacity to become a nurturing mother intensifies when another married couple, Jon (David Morrissey) and Theresa (Laura Birn), move in to the home’s empty apartment on the fist floor. They are also expecting a baby and, in stark contrast to Kate, Theresa is full of joy at the prospect of imminent motherhood. After the two wives initially meet, their pregnancies brings them together in a blossoming friendship, as Kate becomes entranced by Theresa’s unquestioning celebration of her family-to-be.

But everything changes one night during a dinner party in Kate and Justin’s flat. Kate begins to sense that all is not as it seems with their new friends. Then a tragic accident throws the couples into a nightmare, and a reign of psychological terror begins.

Farr generously took the time recently to talk about writing and directing ‘The Ones Below’ during an exclusive phone interview from London. Among other things, the British writer-director and father discussed how he was inspired to pen the script for the drama after speaking about the anxieties that go along with modern parenting with another father. He also realized during while forming the story that it was important to concentrate on Kate and Theresa’s point-of-views, because pregnant women bond incredibly fast. He also mentioned that he embraced the process of making his feature film directorial debut on the thriller, as the cast and crew worked closely together on the set, which he felt was vital to making a genre-driven independent film.

The writer began the conversation by describing his process of penning the script for the drama, and why he was inspired to create a story about parents-to-be soon who become involved in a psychological battle of wills with their new neighbors. “The idea for the script came the night after I had a conversation with another father-I’m a father of two kids, and so is he. We discussed the anxieties that go along with modern parenting, which can be an isolating experience,” Farr revealed.

“The story came to me during the middle of the night, including such specific details as the shoes and the color yellow,” the first-time feature film helmer also divulged. “It was a subconscious development, which gave the idea a fairy tale quality. I hope that quality has stayed with the film until now, so that the story feels like it’s half-real and half-dreamnt.” Farr then described the story as “someone’s worst nightmare that’s unfolding before our eyes.”

While the filmmaker was inspired to pen the screenplay for ‘The Ones Below’ after talking to another father, he also explained that “It was a huge moment in the writing process when I realized that the film belonged in the point-of-view of the women. The film is based on their relationship, and it’s essentially a story about the attraction between two pregnant women,” particularly in the beginning of the narrative. He also felt that it was important to concentrate on Kate and Theresa’s point-of-views, and how the increasing conflict between the couples is influencing them, because “in our world, pregnant women bond incredibly fast. There’s a unique process that they’re going through that no one else can relate to and understand.”

Throughout the course of the thriller, Justin, and especially Kate, are struggling to determine whether or not they can truly trust Theresa and Jon. While the building’s original tenants begin questioning whether or not the new neighbors are truly who they’re presenting themselves to be, Farr feels as though “Kate really needs that new relationship. Therefore, she approaches it in a way that’s slightly unlike her. Kate initially finds Theresa to be remarkable and optimistic, but of course, that leads to danger. What Kate perhaps hasn’t realized is that Theresa is far more unstable and dangerous than she presents herself to be,” the director explained.

“Theresa also has a partner who’s extremely loyal to her, and will do anything to make her happy,” the filmmaker further explained. “So when things begin to go wrong in the film, Kate’s confronted by two terrifying adversaries. She then begins to question things with her own partner, Justin, and whether he’ll also prove to be fiercely loyal and supportive of her, which leaves Kate to feel increasingly isolated.”

After describing his process of penning the script for ‘The Ones Below,’ Farr then began talking about how he made his feature film directorial debut on the drama, which he called a “great new experience. I have directed several plays in London for the Royal Shakespeare Company. So directing actors is something that I have done many times before.”

He then admitted that “the technical control you can exercise in film was something that was very new to me. But there was this incredible feeling that this group of people on the set worked very closely together, especially under a slightly pressurized time condition. They worked with incredible calmness and speed, and in the end, they were able to deliver what was a specific world.”

The helmer added that “the color in the film was carefully thought about by everyone who was involved, including my wonderful Director of Photography, Ed Rutherford, my incredibly talented Production Designer, Francesca Di Mottola, and my fantastic Costume Designer, Sarah Blenkinsop. We worked closely together on every color, so that we could make sure that everything was absolutely consistent, even with the relatively low budget that we had.”

Farr also noted that “that’s something that I really admire in American movies, to be honest. I think there’s a beautiful, formal quality to the work, with the obvious examples being people like David Lynch, Wes Anderson and David Fincher. They clearly think through the color in their films, which adds to the fairytale quality of their work. That’s something that I love in American cinema. In Britain, we tend to have more of a realist tradition in our movies,” the first-time feature film director explained.

“I love horror movies in particular, including (Stanley) Kubrick’s ‘The Shining,'” the British filmmaker also revealed. “I think when horror movies are intelligent, they can use all kinds of color. That requires everyone who’s involved in the filmmaking process to be on the same page, and know exactly where they’re going with it. Kubrick had years to prepare his movies, but we didn’t have that time on this film. So I’m very proud of how we managed to make this movie.”

Further discussing the process of working on the thriller’s production design, Farr then noted how he found the house where he shot the film, and how he and Di Mottola determined how they wanted the couples’ living spaces to look. Since the majority of ‘The Ones Below’ takes place in the couples’ apartments, “We were very fortunate to find a house that was empty, since we couldn’t afford to shoot on a set. The owner was about to do a major redevelopment on it, but had to deal with getting everything together, so the house was empty for six months. We obviously weren’t there that whole time, but we were able to go in and prep it,” the director revealed.

“That experience was the thing that made the film work for me, as it allowed the house to become another character in the story. So the flat below is really the flat below, and is under a few staircases and hallways, which was exciting” Farr explained. “There were things that I wasn’t able to do this time, which I would love to do in a future film, such as getting three floors, which would be very expressionistic. So there were some restrictions we had with the house, because of the timing we had. But given that we made the film in London, which is a hugely expensive city, we were blessed with the location, which enabled me to do most of what I wanted to do.”

With ‘The Ones Below’s story primarily focusing on the relationships between the neighbors, Farr then discussed the process of casting the four main characters, and how he decided that Poésy, Morrissey, Campbell Moore and Birn were all right for their respective roles. “It was a different process when I cast the men and women in the film,” the director revealed. “I knew the men before we began filming. I also knew their work, so I was able to offer them the roles quickly,” the filmmaker divulged. “Luckily, they both loved the script, and wanted to be in the film. The moment when David said yes, I knew the film was going to happen.”

While Farr knew the two lead actors before filming began on the thriller, “I didn’t know the women at all, but I knew of Clémence’s work. They both came in to meet me, and we worked on the script together for several hours. I also filmed them as we talked, which is what you usually do in the theater. Luckily, they didn’t mind doing that,” the director noted. “That process was helpful, because it allowed us to develop the ideas, and it helped make the film a more intimate experience. It was extremely helpful for Clémence, in particular, because her character has to go through some dark emotional places.”

The filmmaker then explained that “when we later arrived on the set, we all had a shared idea of where we were going to go. They were all wonderful to work with, even though it was an intense experience, and they had to do some terrible things to each other. But there was a real trust in the room, even though we were in the house for a long time. That house even became a rehearsal room, where we thought, anything goes.” Farr truly embraced “that artistic and emotional freedom, which allowed the actors to go to some pretty daring places.

Once filming on ‘The Ones Below’ was completed, it premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and has also played at the Berlin Film Festival and the London Film Festival. Farr then began discussing the experience of bringing the movie to the festivals. The filmmaker noted that “We had a wonderful festival circuit with the movie. We were happy to be accepted by Toronto, as it’s a huge festival now. We were able to secure the American release with Magnolia (Pictures), and they have been a wonderful partner.” The director then added that the cast and crew had a “very different experience going to Berlin, and the audience there was intellectually involved in the film. We also played in London, which is my hometown, so I felt a lot of pride to have been selected at the festival here.”

Farr then delved into his thoughts on Magnolia’s genre branch, Magnet Releasing, distributing ‘The Ones Below’ in select U.S. theaters and On Demand, and why he thinks that the VOD platform is beneficial for this type of independent film. “I do maintain that all filmmakers feel that there’s nothing like seeing their movies, especially this type of film, in a cinema. There’s nothing like seeing a genre movie, especially with all of its colors and sound, in a cinema,” the British theatrical and film writer and director explained. “But with the way that American culture has changed, I also have no problem at all with a simultaneous release. It adds energy to the distribution, and foreign movies need that support.”

The filmmaker added that he was in London while speaking over the phone for the interview, “so I can’t feel what it’s like to have the movie released in America in the same way as when it opened here in England. But not every English film gets released in America,” so Farr was appreciative of the fact that ‘The Ones Below’ would be viewed by American audiences. “I’m a huge fan of cinema, so having my movie open in America is very important to me.”

In addition to writing and directing ‘The Ones Below,’ as well as multiple theater productions, the filmmaker has also penned and helmed several television shows, including this year’s crime drama mini-series, ‘The Night Manager,’ which stars Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie. Farr then revealed whether he has a preference of working in one medium over another. “The romance of cinema will never go away for me, and is what convinced me to pursue art and storytelling. Having said that, writing ‘The Night Manager’ was a hugely satisfying experience, particularly in a way that I wasn’t expecting,” he revealed. “I’ve always been a huge fan of John le Carré,” who wrote the 1993 novel that the mini-series’ story is based on.

“So that experience has made me re-think about the possibility of working on television again. I think we’re now in a new era of television, and it’s magnificent, ambitious, sophisticated and complex,” Farr divulged. “But I’ll always want to return to cinema, as I’m passionate about it. I think cinema has the right to exist in its own right. Spending 90 to 100-minutes in a dark room with other people, and feeling a wide range of emotions, is something that we must cherish.”

Not that ‘The Ones Below’ has been released, Farr has several other upcoming projects lined up as a filmmaker, including having co-written the upcoming biographical action thriller, ‘HHhH.’ “The movie has finished shooting, and is now in the editing process. I think it will be released later this year. It was directed by Cédric Jimenez, and stars Jason Clarke, Rosamund Pike and Jack O’Connell,” the scribe noted. “It tells the story of the extraordinarily brave Czech resistance, and its attempt to assassinate (Nazi leader,) Reinhard Heydrich during the middle of the Second World War in Prague. It should be a fabulous movie.”

Interview: David Farr Talks The Ones Below (Exclusive)
Director David Farr on the set of ‘The Ones Below,’ a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Director David Farr on the set of THE ONES BELOW, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Written by: Karen Benardello

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *