Warning: This review contains minor spoilers for 1BR
2019 has seen a spate of horror movies aiming to dissect the very specific realities of trying to live and possibly even thrive in the modern day. From Midsommar’s take on gap years, grief tourism, and white supremacy to Vivarium’s meditation on the pressures of growing up and moving to the suburbs, it’s been a banner year for surreal horror about how much everything sucks. Directed by David Marmor, 1BR barrels into this depressingly engaging new trend (which Fantasia Fest’s Kaila Heir coined as “Burnout Horror”) with a look at a very modern kind of loneliness.
Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) is an LA transplant. She’s recently moved to the bustling city to “start a new life.” When she discovers a gorgeous block where neighbors say hi, help each other, and have dinner parties, it seems like she might have found a place to begin again. Before she knows it, she’s swept up in a Rosemary’s Baby-style paranoia that makes her think that her perfect new home might not be all that perfect. Marmor does a great job of crafting an LA that both feels bustling, busy, and completely isolating. Sarah’s new home is worryingly familiar to those of us who run the rental gauntlet, and Brydon Bloom offers a believable and relatable performance as a truly lost woman.
1BR excels when it’s building atmosphere, but Marmor’s excitement to get to the horror of delving into the inner life of the cult at its center knocks the steady tension off its axis. Granted, it is fun to get an insight into the day-to-day life of the brainwashed inhabitants of “the community.” Despite the potential for some deep cultural commentary, 1BR prefers to stick to a pretty simple horror structure that luxuriates in the discomfort of Sarah and the viewers who watch her torment. For much of the 90 minute runtime, this works to the favor of Marmor’s film, though there are a couple of tropes that appear which are already pretty tired in 2019.
Celeste Sully is wasted as Lisa, a character who essentially exists to further Sarah’s character and unfortunately fits in the wildly problematic Black Best Friend archetype. She’s sassy, she doesn’t take s***, and (spoiler alert) she eventually befalls a predictably sad fate. It’s a shame that 1BR traffics in tropes like these because otherwise, it feels like a timely and pretty fresh take on the classic psychological thriller. But in this day and age, you’d hope that anyone making genre films would be aware of these tired concepts and the baggage that they come with.
If you can look past some rookie mistakes like that then you’ll find a slick and sometimes scary film which feels like the unruly younger and less experienced sibling of Karyn Kusama’s outstanding chiller The Invitation. Held together by a scarily believable cast and a near-unrelenting sense of dread, 1BR puts Marmor on the map as one to watch, and will potentially become a minor cult hit amongst LA renters in the coming years.
Featured Image: Malevolent Films/Epicenter