In her superb crime thriller, Number 37, South African filmmaker Nosipho Dumisa channels the master of horror, Alfred Hitchcock to show the impact of desperation and greed on a person's soul. Dumisa turns her lens on a man named Randal (Irshaad Ally), a former drug dealer who is left crippled as a result of a botched robbery. Devastated by his inability to sustain the life he once had, and desperate to stay under the radar of a diabolical loan shark named Emmie (Danny Ross), Randal's only outlets are his long-suffering girlfriend Pam (Monique Rockman), and the pair of binoculars she gifts him.
Set in the gloomy and gritty government housing projects in Cape Town, Dumisa pulls no punches when it comes to illustrating the violence and abject poverty that continues to chew away at impoverished communities of color. The filmmaker also refuses to make excuses for her main character. Though Randal is confined to a wheelchair and his home, it’s clear that he is is the villain in his own story. Seeing no way to carve out a better path for himself, the ill-tempered criminal thrusts much of his pain and anger on Pam — who tries but fails to sustain it.
The couple’s luck seems to shift one day when Randal — hopelessly looking to connect with the outside world, witnesses the murder of a police officer at the hands of the project's most violent criminal, Lawyer (David Manuel). Seeing the murder as an opportunity to escape his present circumstances, Randal decides to blackmail Lawyer for the money he owes Emmie so he can start a new life.
Photo Credit: Dark Star Pictures
Number 37 works so well because Dumisa’s exhilarating style and tone. Fast-paced and edgy, the film will keep you on your toes until the final shot —which will surely leave you gasping. Randal has few redeemable qualities and while the audience does not root for him, we certainly root for Pam who finds herself unwittingly entangled in her lover’s terrifying plot. Pam does not merely exist on the outskirts of this narrative either. Because Randal's handicap keeps him confined to his apartment, Pam becomes Randal's vessel out in the world. But what Randal comes to realize is that neither Pam nor the triangle of criminals involved in the police officer's death can be controlled. As much as Pam is vulnerable to the whims of her volatile boyfriend, she's got her own motives for diving headfirst into this scheme.
Aside from the standout performances from Ally, Rockman and the supporting cast, Dumisa’s choice to let her narrative stand on its own without over-saturating it with gore, blood, and violence adds to the film’s authenticity. Too often when criminals and impoverished communities are depicted in film, they become caricatures of themselves. Dumisa refuses to do that here. Instead, she infuses twists and turns into her plot, while relying on the sheer strength of her actors to get her story across.
Arresting and heart-stopping, Number 37 is a fiercely acted and directed tale of the intense mayhem that can be born out of anger, desperation, and sheer entitlement. The buildup alone is worth the ride.
Number 37 will open on November 2, 2018, at Laemmle's Glendale Theatre in Glendale, CA and then on November 9, 2018, at Cinema Village in New York City expanding wider in the weeks following.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word with Aramide and you can tweet her @wordwitharamide