GRIMMFEST 2019: 1BR – movie review

1BR. Image credit: Courtesy of Grimmfest

I’ve been granted press accreditation for the 11th Grimmfest, the Manchester’s International Festival of Fantastic Film. So, I had the opportunity to watch and review a bunch of upcoming horror movies. This is my review of 1BR (USA, David Marmor, horror/thriller).

With the plot being kept under wraps, I will only say that 1BR follow a young woman (Sarah, played by first-timer Nicole Brydon Bloom) starting over in a new city: she scores a perfect apartment (the title of the movie is the address) only to discover, too late, that the place and her neighbours are not at all what they seem.

First time writer and director David Marmor took inspiration from his personal life to tell a story that’s both intimate and works on a larger scale. When Marmor moved, very young, to Los Angeles, he found himself living in a tiny apartment in a large building. He was crowded in among strangers yet felt completely isolated, swallowed up by a vast, uncaring city. This personal experience – reflected by Sarah’s character – is combined with the sordid history of cults that surrounds LA, making for a fascinating concept.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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In fact, 1BR predominantly succeeds in these two aspects: the feeling of isolation Sarah, a fish out of water, is experiencing, and the uncanny cultist element.

1BR. Image credit, courtesy of Grimmfest
1BR. Image credit: Courtesy of Grimmfest

Nicole Brydon Bloom, in her first leading role, truly delivers the anxiety and terror her character is feeling. Her solid performance is highlighted in scenes that require her to switch from one emotion to the other fully on camera and in the space of few seconds. 1BR, also, succeeds at creating an alive and genuine neighbourhood that feels realistic due to the amount of characters on-screen at the same time: the camera flows through them during barbeques and events, providing the audience with a documentary-esque vibe.

Without the use of jump-scares and cheap tricks, 1BR establishes a dreadful atmosphere from the get-go, making the viewer identify with Sarah. As a person who hates sharing personal information with crowds and being observed by neighbours, I felt very uncomfortable watching this film and trying to figure out what was going through the lead’s mind.

1BR. Image credit, courtesy of Grimmfest
1BR. Image credit: Courtesy of Grimmfest

Yet, the cult side of the story is also achieved in a rather convincing and new way. This movie clearly utilises Mormonism and Scientology as inspiration for the cult: this informed and realistic approach to the subject matter, enhanced by some over-the-top freaky horror elements, contributes to the sense of dread present in the picture.

On the other hand, 1BR fails to delve into the cult aspect any deeper than a mere surface level. Throughout the whole film, only a few major rules of this specific sect are touched upon, whereas every other potentially interesting aspect (education, motif, structure, punishments…) is ignored. This leaves the viewer with loads of unanswered questions and mostly unsatisfied.

The decision not to explore the cult in-depth could’ve led, however, to a better understanding of Sarah’s character, but her backstory and personality are also touched upon briefly, with not enough time or effort put into making her a truly fascinating character. Despite solid acting and empathy for the situation she’s in, Sarah’s character feels a bit like a blank slate you can only project yourself onto.

Unfortunately, 1BR feels very uneven in its execution: truly tense moments are intertwined with bad dialogues delivered in a rather unconvincing way; a few scenes seem to be thrown in the mix and, while effective on their own, they fail to add value to story and characters in any meaningful way; the visuals range from purposeful track shots to quick and uninspired shot-reverse-shot instances.

1BR feels like a great concept that could’ve been great, whether the focus centred on the lead character or on the cult aspect. However, the clumsy execution paired with uneven and unfocused approach make it feel like an unfinished product: this is one of those frustrating cases where you could tell there were elements to make a great film, but the end result was just a mildly entertaining compilation of great ideas. 1BR got mostly positive reviews from Fantasia Film Festival and, despite its flaws, isn’t a bad directorial debut: you should still give this movie a chance when it gets releases, and I’m very curious to see what Marmor will direct next, with hopefully a bigger budget and some more experience in service of his cool ideas.

1BR                                         5/10

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