‘Number 37’ Review: A Grungy South African Thriller

Posted November 8, 2018 10:52 p.m. EST

In the South African crime thriller “Number 37,” a desperate paraplegic and a pair of binoculars propel a plot cribbed from Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” yet crackling with its own lowlife energy.

Set in a huddle of seedy housing blocks in a notoriously dangerous area outside Cape Town, the plot (by first-time feature director Nosipho Dumisa, and two others) circles Randal (Irshaad Ally), a bitter crook whose failed caper months earlier left him paralyzed. It also left him owing a great deal of money to a fearsome loan shark (Danny Ross) who enjoys torturing defaulting debtors. With only a week to find the cash, Randal is in a serious bind — until, through his binoculars, he spies a vile gang boss (David Manuel) murder a crooked cop in an apartment across the way. Maybe there’s a solution to his predicament after all.

Cheerfully derivative yet doggedly entertaining, “Number 37” benefits from Dumisa’s slick execution and impressive acting by her small cast. Cooking up an elaborate blackmail plot from his wheelchair, Randal becomes a stationary puppet master, casually risking the lives of a dopey friend and his long-suffering girlfriend, Pam (a wonderful Monique Rockman), to carry it out. When things go pear-shaped, though, Dumisa stages the calamities in tense, bite-size scenes viewed through Randal’s seesawing lenses, cleverly conveying the frustration of his immobility.

Though locked on lives shaped by chronic poverty, this tough little movie avoids social commentary. Drawing richness from his grungy setting, cinematographer Zenn van Zyl is the opposite of immobile, his camera sweeping the teeming courtyard between apartment buildings and sneaking through narrow hallways and stairwells. To save Pam’s life, Randal will eventually be forced to attempt to do the same.


Additional Information:

“Number 37”

Not rated. In Afrikaans, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.