There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services, and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
The Ones Below, a 2015 psychological thriller written and directed by prolific playwright, theater director, and TV producer David Farr. Clémence Poésy and Stephen Campbell Moore co-star as Kate and Justin, a happily married, upwardly mobile British couple who are about to have their first child when they strike up a friendship with downstairs neighbors Jon and Theresa (played by David Morrissey and Laura Birn), who are also expecting. After a tragic accident at a dinner party, a rift forms between the two families, as Kate begins to suspect that Theresa is plotting to destroy her life.
Why watch now?
Because Farr’s action series Hanna — based on the movie of the same name, co-written by Farr and Seth Lochhead — debuts on Amazon Prime Video this weekend.
The movie Hanna (directed by Pride & Prejudice and Atonement helmer Joe Wright) didn’t get a lot of hype when it arrived in theaters in America and the UK in spring 2011, but it performed fairly well at the box office, and started building more of a fanbase once it hit home video and cable. Amazon’s take tells a more detailed version of the film’s story about a young girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan in the original, Esme Creed-Miles on TV), raised in the chilly northern European wilderness by a fugitive secret agent (Eric Bana on the big screen, and Joel Kinnaman on the small) to be a ruthless killing machine.
This new Hanna replaces the film’s flashy visual style with a greater emphasis on character, stretching a sheltered adolescent’s first engagement with the civilized world (and with her mysterious nemesis, played on TV by Mireille Enos) into extended vignettes that explore her alienation and curiosity. Action fans might find the show a little slow and somber, but those who appreciate mature drama should love how Creed-Miles (the daughter of accomplished actress Samantha Morton) makes the title character into a sympathetic, tragic figure who’s spent her entire life as an unwitting pawn in someone else’s game.
The first Hanna script was written by Lochhead and revised by Farr, but it still shares common themes with Farr’s TV work. As a contributing writer on series like Spooks, Outcasts, McMafia, and Troy: Fall of a City, Farr has often taken the rough outline of genre stories — a spy thriller, a science fiction drama, an international crime saga, a historical action epic — and shaded it with the finer details of the characters’ domestic concerns. He seems especially drawn to stories about parenting and family bonds, and how they’re affected by extreme life-or-death situations.
The Ones Below is Farr’s only feature film so far as a director (and his only solo movie screenwriting credit), so maybe that’s why it seems to cut more to the core of his thematic preoccupations. The characters in this movie — as in a lot of Farr’s other scripts — are clannish, and fiercely protective of their own territory. Kate, Justin, Jon, and Theresa are warily genial with each other when they first meet, and they go through the motions of becoming friends. Once they’re at odds, they continue to plaster on smiles when they pass each other in their building, but privately, Kate becomes paranoid that her neighbors intend to take everything she has — including her newborn child.
Who it’s for
Fans of “parental angst” thrillers like Rosemary’s Baby and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.
For the most part, The Ones Below has a modern look. The fashions and locations are very 2015, and Farr and cinematographer Ed Rutherford keep the lighting fairly plain, eschewing deep shadows and dynamic splashes of color. Every now and then, though, Adem Ilhan’s score peppers in some creepy, childlike “la la la”s, and occasionally, Farr and Rutherford indulge in short snap-zooms, like something out of a late-1960s horror movie. The intent appears to be to maintain the tension and shocks of a classic suspense picture without venturing too far outside reality. (At least not until the ending, which does get pretty wild.)
It’s that plausibility factor that makes The Ones Below so effective. Kate experiences mounting anxiety over what she presumes — not wrongly — is seething hostility from Jon and Theresa. Her stress is intensified further by a crying baby, lack of sleep, concern that she’s not a good mother, and insufficient spousal support. Throughout this story, Farr finds that soft spot between the justified fear of an extraordinary threat and what could be dismissed as everyday maternal nerves.
Where to see it
Netflix. Oddly, the film version of Hanna is not available from any of the major subscription services right now — not even Amazon. But Farr’s John le Carré adaptation The Night Manager (directed by Bird Box’s Susanne Bier) is on Amazon. So is “Impossible Planet,” an episode of the anthology series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams that Farr wrote and directed.