Situations arise where a person can only watch events unfold. Being a bystander watching the world work around can bring up intense feelings of helplessness. What if the bystander is also an active participant? Released in select theaters throughout November, and On Demand November 20th via Dark Star Pictures, Number 37 is a thrilling tale of the dangers of getting involved in things that were never meant to be seen.
Directed by Nosipho Dumisa, the story follows a small town crook named Randal (Irshaad Ally: Homeland series, Cape Town mini-series) who lives in the slums in Cape Town. He desperately wants out and to live a different life. He has the bright idea of borrowing money from a loan shark, Emmie (Danny Ross: Sterlopers series), and buying drugs in order to sell and make the money to get out. Things go horribly wrong and Randal loses his best friend and his ability to walk in a shooting. Randal is now confined in a wheelchair in a small, ratty upstairs apartment. He still owes Emmie the money, but now he cannot work. His girlfriend, Pam (Monique Rockman: Tussen as en hoop 2016), gifts him a set of binoculars so that he can watch the world outside.
While spying on the neighborhood, Randal observes different issues other than the obvious poverty. Pastor White (Elton Landrew: Forgiveness 2004, Ellen: The Ellen Pakkies Story 2018) is selling off all of his possessions to help keep his church afloat. Lieutenant Gail February (Sandi Schultz: Assignment 2015, Hotel series) is poking around looking for her missing partner. Randal soon witnesses a crime committed by the neighborhood boss, Lawyer (David Manuel). He recruits his friend, Warren (Ephram Gordon), in a blackmail scheme to get money from Lawyer to pay Emmie back and save both his and Pam’s lives. One cannot steal from a bad man and not suffer some type of consequence.
There are several dangerous people in play. All after the same thing – money. Who will be standing flushed at the end? Will Randal and Pam finally find a way out of their poverty stricken lives? Will they survive at all?
Number 37 is a clever homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window from 1954. In both films, the protagonist is confined in a wheelchair only able to watch life continue out the window. Both feature said star witnesses a crime and must make the decision as to what they will do about it. A major difference is that in Number 37, the person watching out the window is not simply a bystander but an active participant in the crimes being committed. It is difficult to take the master, Hitchcock’s work and twist it enough to make it unique. Dumisa’s Number 37 surpasses expectation and updates a classic brilliantly.
Many people want to change the situation they find themselves in life. Needing and wanting more money is usually the desire. Some are successful in achieving this the correct, legal way and are able to better themselves. When the decks are stacked against, though, crime is often the method people turn to. Had Randal been born into a different economic class, he would never have to choose crime over death. The character says it the best, “Money is the devil we keep chasing in the hope of something better.”
Throughout the film, Randal makes fatal decisions in order to gain enough money to get himself and Pam out of their current situation. Pam continuously assures him that they will be ok broke or not as long as they are together. Randal is focused on the monetary value he lacks while Pam focuses on the intangible love they share. As a man in a low social economic status, his worth is determined by how much cash he has. It is what drives the character to make the choices in order to allow the plot to come together in a beautifully complex package.
An important aspect of any good Thriller is having relatable characters that the viewer can either root for or against. Number 37 has this in spades. Ally’s Randal is brilliant, his character’s emotional state leaps off the screen. His face is blank like a man who refuses to show emotion, but everything the character is feeling screams from his expressive eyes.
As a viewer you are treated with knowing the exact moment Randal realizes the magnitude of the consequences his dangerous choices have created for himself and Pam. Rockman’s Pam is heartbreakingly relatable in her role as the woman in love desperate to do whatever it takes to be with her man. Both Ross’ Emmie and Manuel’s Lawyer are the epitome of the dangerous street thugs that no one should ever willingly associate with. Each member of the cast crawled deep into their characters to give the viewer a stirringly deep, exhilarating story.
A truly successful Thriller works when there are different layers built on top of each other to make one cohesive story. Hitchcock was the master of this genre. Dumisa seems to have some of the same critical magic. Exceptional casting and an intelligent, blood-pumping script adds up to a phenomenal film worth multiple views. It is for these reasons that Cryptic Rock give Number 37 4.5 out of 5 stars.