PLOT: A young woman’s (Nicole Brydon Bloom) dream apartment in L.A turns out to be a nightmare once she discovers the secret behind her fellow tenants close-knit community.
REVIEW: Sorting through the world premieres at as extensive a festival as Fantasia can sometimes be daunting. Running twenty-days, double the length of TIFF and Sundance, the schedule is jam-packed with movies making their debuts, and it can be difficult to predetermine what needs to be seen and what can be skipped. For every movie that kinda vanishes once the festival has run its course, there’s a breakout like CAM, so often you just need to rely on the buzz around the fest and pick something – hoping it’ll be worth your while.
1BR was one of the buzzier titles among the staff, with everyone seeming to appreciate the relatable storyline. I mean, who hasn’t lived in some dodgy apartments with weirdo tenants that make your life difficult? That’s taken to an extreme in writer-director David Marmor’s debut, which, while gruesome and occasionally grim, also has a satiric edge to it that distinguishes it from the pack somewhat.
Rising talent Nicole Brydon Bloom stars as the heroine, Sarah, who’s escaping her two-timing cheat dad’s grip to set out on her own. She finds what seems to be the apartment of her dreams in the friendly Asilo Del Mar co-op, but no sooner does she move in than initially relatable things start going awry. For one, the noisy pipes keep her awake at night, and for another, her presumably love-struck neighbor is a pest – always trying to get her to socialize after a long day or work where she just wants to chill out with her cat. And oh yeah, there’s a strict “no pet policy” that she’s skirting. Surely that can’t end well for either Sarah or her poor kitty.
Here’s where my issues with 1BR start. The set-up is intriguing, with Bloom a terrific find as the lead. But- everything happens too fast. It only takes about fifteen minutes or so for the film’s signature Grand Guignol moment to happen, and from there it settles into a second act that goes on far too long before a lightning-quick resolution with an admittedly cool (if predictable) twist. One also needs to question the wisdom of Marmor using Andy Williams’s “Happy Heart” as a recurring ironic counterpoint to the gruesome imagery, as it was used the same way – to great effect- in Danny Boyle’s SHALLOW GRAVE. That’s an immediate turn-off because it feels like a blatant rip from that film. Any other, less familiar, song could have been chosen and been just as effective while maintaining a semblance of originality.
Those (major) flaws aside, 1BR does have some substantial things going for it. For one, the casting is perfect. Also, the technical side of the film is top-shelf, and some of the gruesome imagery is admittedly impressive, such as a jarring moment where someone’s hands are nailed to a wall. I also like the way the cult-like community is built up, and how they show Sarah gradually being broken down. Someone at the fest mentioned to me that this plays like a “very L. A” movie, and certainly the history of movements like Scientology seem to influence the story – and all this is effective.
In the end, 1BR is a solid little genre movie that I’d wager could actually go up a notch or two with a couple of easy fixes, such as replacing their reliance on Williams’s track – whose inclusion really is jarring as it’s so associated with Boyle’s film. Overall though, it held my interest throughout and everyone involved certainly has the potential to break out in the years to come. I’d be very interest to see what Marmor does as a follow-up, and Bloom seems like a talent on the rise.