Where would horror, as a genre, be without cults? Or new-to-town transplants with troubled pasts searching for and finding what appears to be the perfect new home? For his first feature, 1BR, writer/director David Marmor combines these two genre staples for an up and down affair that, while ultimately a mixed bag with some pacing issues, pays off with solid tense, thrilling creeps.
New to L.A., Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) thinks she’s finally found the ideal apartment. Sure, the neighbors are weirdly close, but everyone seems nice and wants to try and build a community. Just what this lonely, struggling young woman hiding from a vague troubled past needs. Until it isn’t. Until they constant pressure, the constant presence of neighbors trying to poke into her life, begins to grate. And that’s just the beginning, as the idyllic setting masks something deep, dark, and much more sinister.
Marmor’s script reportedly pulls from the real life experience of people who got out of Scientology. And while it does eventually get all cult-y and twisted, it takes too long to get moving. A slow burn isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a slow burn also has to burn. And for too much of the early going, the pace drags.
Part of this is due to Sarah. On her own as a character, she’s not particularly compelling. She’s fine, but bland and boring, without much personality. And Bloom doesn’t help matters. It’s not that she’s bad—she doesn’t have much to work with in the beginning—but there’s not enough charisma or individuality to make her interesting. The character is supposed to be mousy and quiet and withdrawn, but not to the point where it’s hard to engage with, root for, or even care much about her. As things happen to Sarah, and she reacts and responds, this fades, but it’s a problem that never quite resolves.
Though it grinds slow out of the gate, 1BR does hit its stride when it gets to where it wants to go—so much of the first act i bland scaffolding to move the audience forward, and it doesn’t even accomplish that well. But don’t fret, it turns bonkers and mean as a vicious streak unfurls. And even with a few up and down moments with the tempo, the holy shit third act goes a long way to redeeming earlier faults.
Though there are high points to recommend 1BR, ultimately, while it offers and intriguing premise, it’s never fully fleshed out and it doesn’t quite deliver. The side characters and larger motivations are only half-baked. To the point where you don’t entirely buy the core concept, and those familiar with this subgenre will be able to predict where it’s headed. A solid first film that shows promise and potential, it doesn’t entirely develop and cohere into a complete whole. [Grade: C+]