More often than not, horror lies in the unknown. In rare occurrences, like those shown in 1BR, knowing everything is even scarier.
The film’s title refers to the size of an apartment. Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) has just moved to Los Angeles all on her own with dreams of getting into costume design. Living out of a motel room gets old very fast, so she has high hopes of getting her dream apartment during an open house at a nearby complex. Even with dozens of other applicants, Sarah gets chosen and moves in with her contraband cat. When she starts getting threatening notes under her door about said cat, 1BR gets really interesting.
These notes are unnerving, of course, but not entirely out of character for the building. All of the residents seem unnaturally close. Banding together to help the one older resident, Edie (Susan Davis), is understandable, but the attachment between the rest of the other tenants is a little icky. When Sarah shrugs off an invite to a dinner party thrown by her cute neighbor Brian (Giles Matthey), it’s clear that she doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the gang there. This will not do, and they will do what they can to get her to assimilate.
It may sound like 1BR is gearing up for a typical kidnapping and torture plot, and that feels like intentional misdirection. Just as it starts to go down that route, the movie slows down rather than speed up. So often, horror films cruise past the psychological weight of pain and the repetition necessary for breaking someone physically and mentally, but here we’re forced to sit with Sarah through her journey. Every tear and drip of blood is given the attention needed to convey her horrific experience, and very few moments give us any exit from her discomfort. This isn’t horror forced on Sarah and the audience to sensationalize brainwashing; it’s an exercise in extreme empathy.
Bloom is incredible as Sarah, and we feel every single wincing moment along with her. She starts her performance a little wooden, but as we sink into her torture, it becomes clear that the reserved affect was a choice for the character and not a lack of acting talent. Much of the film’s running time is spent in incredibly tight framing with Sarah’s face and Sarah’s tears, and it’s heartbreaking.
Though 1BR makes some strange, and at times unbelievable choices as it comes to a climax, the value in watching a woman go through this journey is still maintained. It’s a fresh take on cults and community, and should not be ignored.