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Number 37
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by Jay Seaver

"I don't think there have been quite THAT many unofficial remakes!"
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Number 37" is basically an uncredited remake of "Rear Window" set in an unsavory Cape Town neighborhood, but that's not exactly a bad place to start if the goal is to make a decent thriller, and while the result may not be a classic, it clears that bar. Maybe this version is not as inventive as the things that inspired it, and there's really not a beat that you can't predict once the basics have been put into place, but it does find an approach to the material that makes it worth a new pass.

A few months ago, ambitious crook Randal (Irshaad Ally) and his friend Lester borrowed some money from loan shark Emmie (Danny Ross) to finance a job that, it turns out, could have gone a lot better. Now, Randal is coming home from the hospital paralyzed while Lester isn't coming home at all, but Emmie still wants his money back in a week, and how's Randal going to do that from a wheelchair in a second-floor apartment? Well, there's blackmail - Randal's girlfriend Pam (Monique Rockman) gave him a pair of binoculars, and Randal saw the drug dealer across the way, Lawyer (David Manuel), murder a cop. But Randal will need to recruit help to make this plan work, and that's before the cops start sniffing around.

There's a lot of Hitchcock's classic in Number 37, but it exists at less of a remove than the earlier film. Where James Stewart's Jeff was a photographer, used to placing something between himself and the world before telling its story and effectively meeting his neighbors through his lens, Randal is already part of this neighborhood and world; his being in a wheelchair is not just inconvenient and embarrassing, but directly related to the rest of the story, and more explicitly shameful. That makes the story's themes something of an inversion - where Rear Window told the tale of a voyeur who inevitably must confront danger directly rather than through those who have volunteered to help, this film is about a man used to being on the scene who must, in a way, learn to be like his foes. Not so much as a killer, but as a planner, directing others, even though the last time he made a plan was disastrous.

This gives writer/director Nosipho Dumisa some more room to play around with her action as well as posing a few challenges; for much of the movie, she's got to make what's going on on the ground and in the other building's clear and easy to follow while also maintaining the feeling of Randal being trapped, and the audience being trapped up there with him. It's a tricky balance that she, cinematographer Zeen van Zyl, and editor Simon Beesley pull off well, establishing the area with wide, clear shots and then jerking the camera around quickly once various shell-games and gambits are started, emphasizing the feeling of looking through binoculars. Even without that, there's a genuine feeling of danger to those scenes, right up to the inevitable pont where Randal has to figure out how to act when he can barely move.

Irshaad Ally is well-chosen for that particular job, and more; he's able to convey the feeling that he should be able to do more and all the anger, denial, and self-loathing that comes with it. Dumisa doesn't give Ally a lot of uncompromised moments, and the actor doesn't try to force them; it's okay that desperation and anger is bringing out the worst in him. Fortunately, he's got good chemistry with Monique Rockman, who gives Pam the right amount of patience to let the audience feel there's something worthwhile in Randal, in that if she didn't seem annoyed occasionally or acknowledge in her expression that getting used to the new status quo was necessary work, the audience wouldn't be able to believe in what - and who - she does. The film also has one really nice villain in Danny Ross's loan shark, who always feels predatory enough that he doesn't have to announce his ruthlessness, and a number of enjoyably intimidating bits of muscle.

Still, there's no denying that it's not hard to see where this is going, whether you've seen the template or not. There's stuff the premise says they've got to do, and there's not much of a twist put on most of them. There are bits that spark a bit of interest, but more often subplots play out or sputter in expected ways. The one honest cop in a corrupt, crime-ridden area and the recently-disabled man's jealousy of his doting partner are such standards that you almost have to either subvert them or do more to execute them cleverly than this one does. There's probably no just ripping them out, but when the story's this familiar, a movie should take every opportunity to do something unexpected.

"Number 37" never quite does that; it retells a familiar tale but doesn't often surprise. That's not entirely negative - the Cape Town setting and reshuffled themes keep it from being dull - but this could certainly do with being less remake and more reimagining.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32144&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/11/19 22:13:23
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 SXSW Film Festival For more in the 2018 SXSW Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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