Establishing a new home is a process rife with fears. Finding a place can be distressing. Jumping through the hoops of application can be harrowing. Then you get in, and a one-bedroom apartment is a blank slate. That’s the blessing and the curse for 1BR’s Sara (Nicole Brydon Bloom), an ambitious but timid young woman who’s struck out on her own in Los Angeles. Leaving her father (and their soured relationship) behind her, she’s desperate to build new bonds in her new home. And when she gets into a cozy apartment complex where neighbors smile at each other and throw casual barbecues, she thinks she has it made. But then there’s the sounds at night, the marks on the wall, and the menacing notes.
Written and directed by David Marmor, 1BR explores the dark side of community. At first, Sara is eager to embrace the family atmosphere of her new home. She graciously helps an elderly neighbor. She sheepishly flirts with the handsome guy down the hall. She small talks with the super and accepts invitations to dinner parties. But not everyone is so charming. A leering man lurking in the shadows puts Sara on edge. Her concerns are dismissed by the others. But when her contraband cat turns up dead, Sara thinks she knows who to blame. But she’s got things far from figured out.
Slowly, 1BR spins from a home invasion premise to one of torture. Too late, Sara uncovers the dark secrets that lurk beneath her apartment complex’s cheery exterior and learns how hard-won her neighbors’ harmony is. The film spins into a story of submission and surveillance. But once Marmor abandons the familiarity of home invasion horror, things go off the rails. Initially, the second act is interesting for its unpredictability. But Marmor’s twists run out of steam long before the credits roll, leaving us to languish in a limping plotline full of mean-spirited montages.
Bloom is trapped too, but in a suffocating role that gives her woefully little to do. Sarah starts out shy, then the trauma she endures makers her even more introverted. It’s far from a dramatic transformation, making the third act feel more muted than menacing. Beyond that, Marmor gives Bloom little chance to express Sara’s inner thoughts, save through her eyes. And mostly Bloom’s eyes read terror, which offers diminishing returns when employed over and over.
1BR is Marmor’s directorial feature debut, and it feels like it. The concept is intriguing, but its unfurling goes from unexpected to predictable. Which makes the final act feel more sluggish than spectacular. His script seems only superficially interested in the inner life of Sarah, abandoning any way for her to express herself in favor of torture-porn ghoulishness. The other characters are similarly thinly sketched, giving audiences little to invest in emotionally. And so we’re left with an undercooked premise, a lackluster lead, a grim tone, and a grueling pace that lumbers into an underwhelming finale. In short, 1BR doesn’t pass inspection.
1BR made its World Premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival.
Header Image Source: Fantasia