Nicole Brydon Bloom as Sarah
Naomi Grossman as Janice
Giles Matthey as Brian
Alan Blumenfeld as Gus
Taylor Nichols as Jerry
Andrea Gabriel as Christina
Celeste Sully as Lisa
Curtis Webster as Charles D. Ellerby
Clayton Hoff as Lester
Written and directed by David Marmor
Hollywood is one of the most inviting places for dreamers from across the country to move to in order to pursue their dreams, but is also one that can deliver hardships and heartbreaks, some whimsical as in Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning musical La La Land and some horrific as in Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s terrifying psychological horror Starry Eyes. It’s a tale as old as time and though 1BR initially starts off feeling like a mixture of the latter and Roman Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby, it offers a few nice twists along the way to set itself apart.
After leaving behind a painful past to follow her dreams, Sarah scores the perfect Hollywood apartment. But something is not right. Unable to sleep, tormented by strange noises and threatening notes, her new life quickly starts to unravel. By the time she learns the horrifying truth, it’s too late. Caught in a waking nightmare, Sarah must find the strength to hold onto her crumbling sanity…or be trapped forever in an existential hell.
In his feature debut, writer and director David Marmor seeks to put as much distance between his film and a glut of similarly-set films, having the heroine be an aspiring artist and designer versus the typical Hollywood starlet and featuring a group of neighbors almost entirely trustworthy rather than suspicious and off-putting, and for the most part it works. It’s easy to connect to many of the lovable residents of Sarah’s new apartment complex, as many of us know an elderly person who cares more about others than taking care of herself and the handsome neighbor who you’d love to get to know if it wasn’t for the cat you’re not supposed to have in your apartment.
As the film progresses, it slowly turns into a typical-yet-fun psychological thriller in which Sarah’s apartment doesn’t appear to be as idyllic as it first seemed, with pipes becoming increasingly loud and disruptive for her sleep and threatening messages regarding someone knowing of the existence of her cat in the apartment until she wakes up one night to the most horrifying discovery of all. Everything leading up to this point, which is still in the first act, is both a traditional and fun exercise and as things change and revelations are brought to life, it continues to become an intriguing mystery of just who she can trust and why she’s experiencing the nightmares she’s going through.
However, this is also where the film suddenly becomes a bit of an overlong slog, despite only running 90 minutes. The primary reveal itself is a solid one for the genre and creates many questions that could have carried the film across its runtime, but the problem is that they are instead answered before we even really get to the halfway point, which then creates the question of why the audience should continue watching. The story feels like two films that are compressed into one, with everything past the halfway point feeling like a story that would be reserved for a sequel but is instead attached while the first half of the story is compressed to fit the shortened run time.
I can very much appreciate the attempt Marmor is going for here, as it is a strong attempt at subverting general horror movie and thriller tropes and craft a more thought-provoking story and character development, but due to the rushed nature of the plot, it really takes away the potential of the latter. The narrative choices made could’ve been some of the most intriguing for any character, heroine or otherwise, as she’s put up against nightmare-worthy forces, but instead this potential falls mostly flat and doesn’t reach the heights it set itself up for.
Though the film somewhat suffers narrative-wise, Marmor knows how to keep audiences quaking in their seats, delivering some truly tense and creepy moments as well as some that are sure to send chills down the backs of even the biggest genre enthusiasts. These chills are supported by strong performances from its cast, namely lead Brydon Bloom, who thoroughly shines and compels as Sarah and is someone I would love to see lead more efforts in the horror and thriller genres, proving to be a quietly powerful and nuanced performer.
Overall, 1BR is a film full of potential and plenty of horror and thriller fun, even if it drops the ball on some of its more interesting narrative elements.