As the harrowing soundscapes of tortured screams in a dark city fill the cinema even before the first shot is shown, Nommer 37 wastes no time in jumping straight into the action. The bloodstained colour tone is a constant reminder that the stakes are high and desperation runs thick. Directed, written and produced by Nosipho Dumisa, and based on the short film of the same name, Nommer 37 is the type of South African crime thriller that demands attention through its strong storyline and standout performances.
After a botched up deal, small time criminal Randal, finds himself confined to a wheelchair in a tiny upstairs apartment in the Cape Flats. With nowhere to go, his beloved girlfriend Pam buys him a pair of binoculars to keep himself occupied during the day. But Randal has other things on his mind, like his financial debt with vicious loan shark Emmie who is breathing down his neck as time runs out. Randal accidentally witnesses a murder through his binoculars by a criminal named Lawyer, and he devises a plan to utilise his new found luck to his advantage, while dodging Detective February’s questioning as she investigates her missing partner.
At every corner of the story there is a new twist that you never see coming, and even when you want to look away the film pulls you back for more, just like the eager Peeping Tom. Inspired by the 1954 film ‘Rear Window’ by Alfred Hitchcock based on the same premise, Nommer 37 uses the millennial reality-tv culture as a window into the life of crime and bad debts. Although placed within the Cape Flats, the film merely uses the themes of gangsterism, drugs and Cape Flats’ culture as the perimeters in which to position the story. It mainly focuses on the young couple, Randal and Pam, and asks the universal question: How far would you go to save yourself and those you love? Emmie’s repayment deadline further raises the stakes and we see Randal and Pam scramble for survival. It’s no wonder a South African Afrikaans film, with English subtitles, was picked up by Dark Star Pictures for North American distribution later this year.
Although there are a few unanswered questions in the storyline, we are only given what is necessary, the pace is inconsistent, the camera angles jarring and the cinematography edgy, up close and confronting. All playing together to heighten the suspense, with a few intentional and unintentional moments of humour for relief before sending your heart rate up again. Complimented by tension filled moments of silence, and juxtaposed by a soundtrack that sounds like a knife on a violin as it slices through the atmosphere.
Nommer 37 is, in its entirety, a thriller, and while I watched most of the more gruesome scenes through the tiny gaps in my fingers, the threat is larger than the deed. There is just enough blood to remind us of what is at stake without becoming a Quentin Tarantino film. The cast is flawless in their pursuit of storytelling at its best. Emmie’s skinny, well groomed facade goes against all the conforms of the antagonist villain, and Danny Ross’s unconventional vocal choices haunt you long after the film has ended. Pam’s unfortunate position as the loving and devoted girlfriend forces us to see a different side to her soft spoken and doll-like character as Monique Rockman brings strength and power to her character, edged on by the audience’s cheers. Irshaad Ally’s portrayal of Randal is brilliantly executed as his lovable charm invites you in and his eyes become our eyes for most of the film. He slowly wins the audience over little by little, and by the end you’re on their team, sitting on the edge of your seat.
Nommer 37 is a South African film that not only demands to be heard, but deserves to be seen. It uses the familiarity of gangsterism in the Cape Flats as a catalyst for suspense in a heart-thumping rollercoaster ride. It’s a strong storyline with incredible performers and a team of great storytellers, lead by the talented Nosipho Dumisa and producer Benjamin Overmeyer, who deserve support from those that love thrillers and even those that don’t.
Nommer 37 releases in South African cinemas Friday 1 June 2018.