Today marks the official theatrical and VOD release of the feature debut from writer/director David Farr. The Ones Below is taut and tense psychological thriller that is sure to make current and soon to be parents extremely uncomfortable. The film tells the story of a couple, Kate and Justin, who are expecting their first child and their new neighbors who, as the title suggests, live in the apartment below them. The neighbors are expecting a child as well, but Kate and Justin cannot shake off the feeling something about their neighbors isn’t quite right. Their suspicions are later proven true in ways we’re not going to spoil for you here, but to be completely honest we haven’t been able to shake the film’s final act in the weeks since our initial screening. It’s good, perhaps even great, and it doesn’t rely on tired genre tropes to keep you glued to the screen.
Recently, we had a chance to hop on the phone with David Farr to discuss the motivations behind the film and the response he’s received so far, as well as what he hopes audiences take away from their time with The Ones Below. You can read highlights from our conversation below. Afterwards, head to iTunes and rent The Ones Below to ensure your significant other feels unsettled whenever someone new moves in next door.
Substream: I don’t have any kids myself yet, but your film left me extremely unsettled. I feel like you managed to tap into fears about parenting I didn’t know I had just yet. I’m curious, what was the origin of the film?
David Farr: You actually articulated it quite well. The film is about me investigating my own fears the anxiety of parenting. I was talking to a friend about the idea of having kids in the city, and how you can feel isolated even though there are people everywhere. I went to bed with these ideas in my head, and when I woke up I had the story in my head while still in a semi-dream state. I thought of these two couples sharing an apartment building, and the relationship that would develop between the two women. From there, something would go wrong.
Substream: I’ve seen a lot of the projects you have written in the past, and as far as I know this is your first real foray into the world of horror. Was tapping into this genre something you’d been meaning to do for a while?
David Farr: Yes, I think so. In the world of theater I have explored it before, and a bit in the film Hanna, which is like a fairy tale horror. I’ve always enjoy horror because the exploration of darkness allows us to go to some really scary and murky places. We all have those places, and it’s good to explore them in a safe environment like books or film.
Substream: I’m curious about the look of the film. When people think of horror or thrillers they picture a lot of darkness and houses that appear to be filled with shadowy corners, but this is world where the sun is out and everything is bright despite there being a sinister presence. Was that something you planned all along? Because it is very striking.
David Farr: Yes. To me, brightness and color can be more frightening than the conventional darkness and murky shadows. Also, from a narrative point of view, it was important to introduce the film with a sun beam optimism. As the story creeps in, the sinister intentions of the characters slowly reveals itself, and we learn they are hiding a real darkness. That has always been more interesting to me. I’ve always been slightly fascinated with the presentation of the perfect life. It scares the hell out of me because you have to wonder what is going on underneath. David Lynch always seems to be fascinated with that as well, and even older filmmakers like Hitchcock.
Substream: There is something about making it feel as if it could happen in the house next to mine that adds to how unnerving it is to watch. If I’m watching a thrilled bathed in darkness it’s not quite the same because my reality looks nothing like what is on the screen, but your film has the look and feel of everyday life skewed ever-so-slightly.
David Farr: That’s wonderful to hear. I think it does have a hint of absolute reality. There is obviously some extremes that don’t fit into reality, but there are real motivations behind their actions. The emotions the characters experience are understand and real. It might not be how you would react, but you can understand the emotional base that drove their decision. That is what makes a thriller great in my mind, seeing someone take a relatable situation and do something extreme with it. We would never act the same way, but we’re curious to see what would happen if we did.
Substream: I understand the decision to focus on the relationship between the two women in the story, but was there ever a time when you were thinking of following the men instead?
David Farr: Very briefly when we were starting to piece together the story I explored Justin quite a bit. After a week or so I realized I would write it from Kate’s point of view, and it was a very liberating moment as a guy to realize I had a story about two women. That was exciting because I knew these women would bond fast because they’re both pregnant, and though they don’t know one another they’re both on a similar journey. There is a strange allure or obsession between them, and it happens naturally in a very short amount of time.
Substream: Is it challenging as a man to write a feature from the perspective of a pregnant woman and feel as if you’re doing it justice?
David Farr: I think earlier in my career that may have been the case. I’m in my 40s now, and I’ve got two daughters, as well my mother, my partner, my ex-partner. I love the company of women. I feel much more comfortable now, probably within the last five years, about writing women. I’m still writing from my perspective obviously, but I feel less inhibited now. I feel women are much bolder and their private imagination is much more interesting than most men imagine. As soon as you release a woman from being an extension of a man, which is how most women are written, the woman is allowed her own emotional space and everything changes. At this point I feel female characters are much more interesting than men.
Substream: Do you plan to further explore the world of horror?
David Farr: Yes, definitely. I’m really interested in trying to do something in the world of science fiction. It’ll always be a psychological approach, but it’s something I really want to do in the future.
Substream: The film is very entertaining and it certainly offers several sequences that people will be trying to shake for months to come, but beyond that — is there anything in particular you hope people take away from The Ones Below?
David Farr: Well, I hope so in the sense that I think the film is a testament to the power of relationships. I hesitate to say what the film is about, but in the film you have an example of love that is absolutely certain, as well as one filled with doubt. The problem with doubt is that is that it can be weak, frail. There are thoughts on that within the film if people choose to dig into it, but I think part of the beauty of any story is that people can take away from it whatever they choose.