Film Review: ‘1BR’ Is A Chilling Genre Find
David Marmor’s chilling 1BR debuted on VOD earlier this year and quickly won favor with genre fans. It didn’t take long for Netflix to show interest, which makes complete sense. The very scenario lends itself to home viewing. This lean, mean scare-fest ruthlessly plays on common fears — like finding yourself alone in a new city or feeling unsafe under your own roof. At a time when American horror is leaning towards jump scares and self-satire, 1BR — as in a one-bedroom apartment listing — takes itself, and the genre, seriously.
Sarah, an impressive Nicole Brydon Bloom, packs her bags and moves to Los Angeles against her father’s wishes. It’s a shaky bid for independence born of constant belittlement. Like many newcomers to the City Of Angels, she is determined to be her own person and follow her dreams — even if it means going through (quite literal) hell to get there. Arriving in a big city without knowing a soul is a horror story in and of itself, and that’s before you factor in finding a new apartment.
In retrospect, Sarah should have known that something was up as soon as she landed a nice 1BR in a decent part of town without a deposit or credit check. Particularly when she arrived late to the showing. The building manager takes an interest in her, however, and she soon finds herself in a seemingly charmed environment where people talk to each other in the corridors and have all-inclusive parties. There’s even a hot dude living next door, who instantly takes an interest. It seems too good to be true and, unfortunately, it is.
Sarah has unwittingly joined a cult. One that chooses its members and then forces them to stay with violence. Our heroine’s world begins to unravels when learns that the family she has been subsumed into is much more sinister than they seem. The indoctrination and brainwashing scenes are particularly chilling given their roots in reality. In fact, the scenario is remarkably plausible for the bulk of the film. A lot of the credit for that goes to Bloom, who fleshes out her role in a way that embraces both the character’s fragility and arch of empowerment.
1BR is at its best when it mines common fears like isolation, alienation and loss of self. Marmor even addresses the degree of delusion and deep-seated ambition it takes to bet on yourself and follow your dreams in a new city. The film is less successful, however, when it veers into (fairly meek) torture porn and plodding action sequences. The supporting cast is also somewhat hammy and a handful of genre clichés arise in the third act. Not that it really matters, however, when the concept and execution is this sound.
Marmor displays a real knack for heightening tension and building a pervading sense of dread that signals him as a director to watch. He also has an obvious affinity with the genre, knowing exactly which buttons to press to make viewers squirm. And then there’s the proverbial cherry on top. Marmor pulls off a masterful ending that makes everything that came before it all the more disturbing.