Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so they say. In this instance, you have writer-director Nosipho Dumisa pay homage to Hitchcock’s Rear Window. A gripping tale of desperation born out of a series of unfortunate but seemingly unavoidable events.
Number 37 played at this Fantasia International Film Festival 2018
The impressive thing about Number 37 is that while the “victim” is of a similar circumstance, the film, in general, has been reinvented to the extent that it holds up on its own. To continue down a line of parallel comparisons would be a disservice to the outstanding work Dumisa has achieved with this gritty thriller because it has taken on a life of its own.
The film centres around Randal Hendricks (Irshaad Ally), who seems to find himself digging the biggest hole imaginable, and at the top of said hole are nasty people who want to bury him in it. He has debt, and like many people with debt issues, they believe the only way out of debt is to borrow more money in the hope of “investing” it for a quick return. As expected, this goes badly, leaving him not only in debt to a vicious loan shark Emmie (Danny Ross), who seems to have a penchant for excessive violence, but also wheelchair-bound as a result of his “investment” going south before he even had a chance.
This setup for the film happens relatively quickly, however, and we’re thrust into a depressing, claustrophobic environment whereby Randal is now fully bound to his apartment in what seems to be a rundown area of Cape Town, with the loan shark desperate for his money back. Based on an earlier albeit briefly bloody scene, this generally doesn’t end too well for the person who owes the cash.
Living with his girlfriend Pam (Monique Rockman), she becomes Randal’s primary motivation, in the sense of protection from this psychopath loan shark. With a set of binoculars, gifted from Pam in a bid to keep his spirits up and his boredom down, Randal witnesses an event that could save his life, cancel out the debt, but more importantly spare his girlfriend who is now by association, potential collateral damage. It’s here that we really begin things to accelerate, twists and turns aplenty, it descends into depths of despair with no real end in sight. A nervousness exudes the screen, there’s a creeping sense of desperation, dread and unpredictability here that it would be a shame to divulge too much information. Part of the enjoyment of Number 37 is that edge of your seat feeling that only comes around so often, it should be savoured, not spoiled.
It’s not just the story that is captivating here. We see crazy, downward spiralling schemes all the time in cinema, but it’s the investable leads that make this so intriguing. Their situation is never really fully explained, therefore we’re at the tail end of the much longer story arc which means the only thing we have to go on is this raw emotional connection, cemented with the visible urge to escape at any costs. This is all that’s needed though, with great acting, a solid film score and a simple yet effective setting, we can invest on emotion and motivation alone as long as the foundations are there.
Number 37 is a very well accomplished film; the approach to violence was clever and restrained. The use of POV camera trickery was a welcomed addition to help increase the tension To emphasise once again, the performances from the cast were excellent across the board.
This is far more than just a remake, a reimagining, or even a tribute – it is a thriller in its own right, one that will leave you squirming for a conclusion, and while there is one, how you get there will never be as you expected. When was the last time you could say that about a film?
Review by Mark Blakeway