Where would horror, as a genre, be without cults? Or, for that matter, 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 tight-knit, but everyone seems nice enough and want to build an intentional community. Just what this lonely, struggling young woman hiding from a vague traumatic history needs. Until it isn’t. Until the 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 experiences of people who got out of Scientology. And while 1BR does eventually get all cult-y and twisted, it takes a good long while 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 fails to ignite.
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 The character is supposed to be mousy and quiet and withdrawn, but not to the point where it’s hard to engage with, root for, or even care much about. As things happen to Sarah, and she reacts and responds, but never acts on her own. This fades, but it’s an issue that never fully resolves.
While it grinds out of the gate, 1BR hits its stride when it gets to where it wants to go—much of the first act serves as bland scaffolding to move the audience forward, and it doesn’t even accomplish that well. Don’t fret, however, 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 an intriguing premise, it’s never fully fleshed out and doesn’t quite deliver on its promise. The side characters and larger motivations are only half-baked, to the point where you don’t entirely buy the core concept. Those familiar with this subgenre will be able to predict where it’s headed. A solid first film that shows potential, with a strong grasp of mood, it doesn’t entirely develop or cohere into a complete whole. [Grade: B-]