A low-level criminal, Randall (Irshaad Ally), owes money to a loan shark. His legs broken and with a ticking clock to pay back his debt, his only connection to the outside world is his window facing out over his slum neighborhood of Cape Flats, South Africa and a pair of binoculars that let him see too much of what is going on.
A series of desperate and poor decisions suck in his girlfriend Pam (Monique Rockman), his friend Warren (Ephraim Gordon), the local pastor, and the police as director and writer Nosipho Dumisa rachets up the tension. “Number 37 might look like a gritty, South African street gangster movie, but it’s a lot more than that… It’s about everything that could go wrong for a couple when ambition, curiosity, greed, fear and horrific bad decision-making collide,” said Dumisa.
The very obvious immediate comparison is to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but that almost does this film a disservice. Dumisa revealed that this was her sort-of love letter to Rear Window, which is one of her favorite films, but also her influences for the film were as based on David Fincher’s Se7en, as well as the more recent Green Room and Don’t Breathe– and that really feels more like the pedigree of the film despite the obvious homage to Rear Window. Hitchcock relied on a sense of voyeurism and mystery, but Number 37 straight up shows us the domestic abuse, threats, people being killed, and so on. We never wonder about the mystery, because there is none. What it does by showing us the action through Randall’s binoculars is contribute to the tension by making us feel as helpless as he does as events unfold.
The acting here is nuanced and powerful. Randall has to remain stoic despite his world collapsing around him. Meanwhile Pam is a voice of reason who is too often ignored, and they both face the consequences of their failures. She has to do so much more of the outward emoting, while Randall tries to fold everything together.
The filmmaking behind this is also spectacular, with excellent camerawork helping us feel the small, confined spaces the film takes place in. It has such a perfect sense of place by taking us into these slums, which become a metaphor for the tension of the film and feeling “trapped.” According to Dumisa, “These areas were constructed in the times of apartheid and people of different racial groups were forcibly removed from their homes to these areas, with the idea that the people in there would not be allowed to leave without permission. This was legal back then but over two decades after apartheid, these areas still exist, although nobody is “forced” to live there anymore…legally. Economically and psychologically these suburbs can often feel like a prison even now. Once you’re inside, it’s difficult to imagine the beautiful tourist Cape Town could exist.”
Dumisa also revealed she wrote the film originally in English, then working with her actors– most of whom were locals — and some translators, they translated the film into an Afrikaans dialect that is specific to the Cape Flats area she was trying to emulate.
This is a great film, especially for a first feature from a young 29-year old director. If Marvel is looking for someone to take the helm of a Shuri-centric spinoff of Black Panther, they should check out Number 37.
4 out of 5 stars
Number 37 had its premiere at SXSW March 10, 2018, and will have two additional showings:
Monday, March 12, 2:30pm, Alamo Lamar C
Wednesday, March 14, 7:30pm, Alamo Lamar C
For more information and for additional “buzz” screenings, check out their official schedule at SXSW here.