Patrascu (Teodor Corban), a low level DMV bureaucrat and loving family man in Bucharest, goes out for a run with his dog one late summer morning. Upon his return, he hears a heated argument between his downstairs neighbour and her boyfriend, Vali (an appropriately reptilian-looking, and acting, Iulian Postelnicu, who’s best known as a comedic performer). He says nothing of his eavesdropping and goes about his day, despite Vali knowing Patrascu was listening. When the neighbour turns up dead that afternoon — the result of a possible “accident” — Patrascu immediately starts noticing that Vali (who’s actually married to a different woman) is acting uncomfortably neighbourly, helpful and nosy, especially around Patrascu’s teenage, Internet-addicted son. The closer Vali tries to keep Patrascu’s family, the more suspicious and frightened he becomes.
It would be easy to categorize Romanian filmmaker Radu Muntean’s One Floor Below as a slow-burn thriller, since there isn’t a great deal of physical violence and there is a decided lack of grand set pieces, but as a human drama and uneasy duel between two decidedly different male personalities, Muntean’s work is anything but slow.
Muntean brings a great deal of style to such a nuanced story, almost never employing close-ups and shooting things from a purposefully uncomfortable distance, which gives the audience a sense that they’re watching surveillance footage. It’s a movie about voyeurs and secrets that feels filmed by someone as equally culpable in the possible crime. It’s a tech savvy, modernist thriller told with old school storytelling techniques, and the blend works perfectly in the film’s favour.