Movie Review: "Number 37" (2018, Subtitled in English)
Homage: a. something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another; b. expression of high regard : TRIBUTE (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
When offered a chance to get my hands on a review screener for a drama billed as “an award-winning Hitchcockian suspense thriller, filmed in Cape Town…” and “…a gritty homage to perennial Alfred Hitchcock favorite Rear Window…”, I couldn’t pass it up. Rear Window is one of the best thrillers ever made, though summing it up as mere thriller doesn’t do it justice. If you haven’t seen it, you need to rectify that shit immediately. I’m not kidding, nor am I even asking nicely. Watch it.
Number 37 is the story of Randal Hendricks (Irshaad Ally; TV mini-series Cape Town) and his girlfriend, Pam Ismael (newcomer Monique Rockman). Randal is a small-time crook and a decent guy, but he makes a lot of shitty decisions. He’s wheelchair bound after a drug deal gone wrong, a drug deal that he funded with money from a "pay or die” loan shark named Emmie (Danny Ross; South African series Sterlopers) that also got his best friend killed. Pam is patient with Randal; it’s true love after all, but now they’re living in a dangerous neighborhood in a hovel of an apartment. Pam buys him a pair of binoculars as a time-passing present to look out over the community with. Before long, Randal sees the murder of a crooked cop at the hands of local big baddie, Lawyer (newcomer David Manuel). He also sees that Lawyer has a very large bag of money that could help with his 25,000 rand ($1,763.99) debt to Emmie. Cue another poor decision! Things go from bad to worse to fuck my life as Randal falls down the karmic rabbit hole of escalating crime and unforseen obstacles.
Number 37 wears its influence right on the sleeve like a badge of honor without daring to be a remake or a blatant ripoff. Rookie director Nosipho Dumisa clearly understands what an homage truly is; it’s a love letter in terms of style and execution. You can’t do much better than cribbing from the Master of Suspense in arguably his best film.
The setup is taken to polar opposites. The Greenwich Village of Rear Window was well-to-do, a living and breathing work of art of its era. The Haven Mansions neighborhood of Cape Town is anything but, a starkly low class slum in one of the roughest places on Earth. The people of Rear Window were gorgeous and classy. The people of Number 37 are dirty, sweaty, edgy, and often deadly. Cape Town, South Africa is one hell of a place to film on location. You immediately know where you are and what the environment is right down to the sounds and the smells. You just don’t get that from a set.
The layout is wonderfully the same, though. Those binoculars are your look at virtually all of the key exposition and action (save a scene or two in the climax). The courtyard is open air and the hub of activity. While there aren’t nearly as many colorful characters played for sidebar story and comedy, Number 37 still keeps you in that Rear Window frame of mind. This is a leaner and meaner beast, focused on the desperate couple and the increasingly batshit events that keep them from safety and happiness.
I don’t know the technical specs for how it was shot, but it’s gorgeous. You can feel stale air and flies landing on the top of your head. Aside from a couple of cliched through the keyhole/binocular zoom shots that are very early 2000’s it is a treat for the eyes. The music is on-point, alternating between discordant ambiance and ghetto bump. Number 37 puts you there in a grounded reality, maybe more so than the legendary film it is paying homage to!
The crowning beauty is the relationship between Randal and Pam. I know this isn’t exactly a powerful choice of wording, but it’s just so real. There are fights, accusations, shared violence for and against…it’s not pretty. Still, they stick by each other. Their love is legit and desperate to survive both literally and figuratively. You can’t fake real chemistry either, and they definitely have it.
It’s not for everyone. Aside from those couple of aforementioned style shots that just didn’t fit with the look of the rest of the film, you’ll get the folks who “don’t do subtitled movies”. Those people depress the living shit out of me. Reading is good for you. Afrikaans is a lovely language that gives the movie real flavor. Then you’ll get the folks (mainly those who don’t understand what homage is…hence the ham-fisted definition up top) that will call it a ripoff or bash Randal’s poor decisions for less than $1800.
Don’t listen to those people. They don’t understand the nature of either true love or true desperation. Number 37 not only understands those things, but it absolutely excels in showing you. Let yourself enjoy that reality in a loving homage to one of the all-time greats.
Number 37 releases in select theaters throughout November and premieres On Demand and Streaming on November 20th.
4.0 out of 5.0 stars