Randal Hendricks is in trouble. Within the first few minutes of Number 37 (Nommer 37), a South African film which premiered at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, we learn that Randal owes thousands of dollars to a dangerous loan shark. He has also been paralyzed from the waist down by drug dealers who took the money he borrowed. The only people remaining in Randal’s corner are his girlfriend Pam and his friend Warren, who has more personality than sense.
Emmie, the loan shark, comes over to Randal and Pam’s place and makes it clear they have one week to pay back their debt, or else. In a third-floor apartment of a run-down Capetown slum, wheelchair-bound Randal is stuck and running out of time. Pam goes to work to beg her boss for a loan, and she gives Randal a pair of binoculars so he has something to do during the day. Through these binoculars, Randal looks across the street and around the neighborhood and sees a menacing man, Lawyer, in an apartment across the block.
Lawyer is the ruthless criminal who runs the block, buys off the police, and does whatever he wants with impunity. That is, until, Randal sees Lawyer murder a dirty cop who had come to Lawyer’s place for a bribe. Randal sees an opportunity to get out of his loan debt, and he and his friend Warren try to blackmail Lawyer by calling him and threatening to tell the police about the murdered police officer.
What ensues in this tense and gripping thriller is both familiar, with obvious shades of Rear Window, and utterly original. The unraveling chaos of Randal’s best laid plans are shot with dynamic energy, especially the through-the-binoculars moments that linger just long enough to allow dread to creep in. The scenes are also carried by the impeccable performances of Irshaad Ally (Randal) and Monique Rockman (Pam). These young lovers rail with intensity, crumble with grief, and glare with lost trust as Randal’s greed catches up to both of them.
Writer and Director Nosipho Dumisa’s skill as a storyteller is readily apparent, and hers is a voice in world cinema to keep an eye on. She takes the thriller genre and adds an undercurrent of class struggle and personal conflict that ensure there are no wasted frames in this brilliant film. I can’t wait to see what Dumisa makes next.