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Director: David Marmor
Notable Cast: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Taylor Nichols, Giles Matthey, Susan Davis, Celeste Sully, Clayton Hoff, Alan Blumenfeld, Naomi Grossman
One of the best experiences of sitting in a cinema is having a film where the final act completely makes the film. Often times on social media, I’ll use the term #SavedByTheThirdAct, but occasionally it is just a film where the finale is such catharsis and a culmination of everything in such a fantastic manner it executes everything – flaws and all. This was the experience of watching 1BR at Telluride Horror Show this year. The film starts off with a relatively slow pace and loose narrative, but the final 20 minutes is a rip-roaring combination that makes all of the efforts of its ensemble work, it’s sly genre shifts, and slow character development pay off. It’s a solid film throughout, but that ending makes it worth it.
Binge-watching a ton of movies for review can be a mental exercise in its own right, so when 1BR started and it didn’t hook me in the way that I thought it might, it was immediately disappointing. It sets up its premise, where a young woman finally gets that dream apartment in LA after leaving home to make it as a costume designer. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to establish the apartment community and her personal situation that lead her down this road. There is a bit of creepiness here and there, particular in the use of the relatively cheesy set up of the odd neighbor Lester and the blackened right lens of his glasses, but the film doesn’t necessarily ever feel like it’s going to slide into horror. It plays it so lightly with what genres it could utilize that it feels as though there is a lacking identity that just brushes on a Polanski apartment horror but never fully embraces it.
With some decent performances, lead by a relatively subtle and intriguing anchor from Nicole Brydon Bloom as the lead character Sarah, the film is carried through the set up into the second act where it starts to lean heavier into horror, but it takes its turn further into evil cult territory with hints of torture added into as it unveils the core conflict. Again, it feels relatively safe (as far as torture in films go) and even though the initial slide into a slightly new genre is interesting, it’s not nearly as compelling as one could hope. The film sets up a lot with how the setting and characters work, further developing the interactions and allowing the audience to put themselves into Sarah’s shoes. Again, it's not bad, but compared to some of the other films at Telluride Horror Show, it felt safe and low energy.
However, as mentioned, when the film finally kicks into high gear in the third act, it takes all of the effort and detail work of the earlier material and runs with it. It delivers on a variety of levels, bringing back characters, igniting more emotional levels, and delivering on a handful of great shocks. It’s one of those culminations that creates a whole that is far superior to the parts. It has some decent gore, the tension kicks up to a full 11, and there is a handful of aces in the sleeves that will drive an audience to the edge of their seats. Not to mention, that final moment is rock n' roll.
1BR is an interesting idea, but director and writer David Marmor plays a fascinating game of chess with its pacing and plot. It takes a very long time to set up the community of the apartment and the situation for our heroine Sarah, but it’s only when the third act comes to life that 1BR finally roots itself as the great film of the concept. It still might be a bit too slow for some viewers, particularly as the first few genre shifts feel safe, but the final uppercut is vicious.
Written By Matt Reifschneider