1BR (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Trapped in a deadly neighborhood

“1BR” is a little devious horror thriller film which pushes its modest story idea a bit more than I expected. While initially reminiscent of several other similar horror films including Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant” (1976), the movie gives us a series of disturbing moments once its trap is sprung on its unfortunate heroine, and it will certainly make you chilled a lot around the time when it arrives at its logical conclusion.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom), a young woman who recently moved to LA not long after her dear mother’s death. Her father is sincerely concerned about whether she will be all right while living alone in the city, and she has not planned yet much on what to do next, but she does not care much about her father’s concern mainly because some uncomfortable thing between her and her father.

Sarah wants to be a costume designer, so she is going to apply for some special education program while working as an intern in a local law firm, but she is not particularly eager to do those menial jobs handed from her direct boss everyday. At least, she happens to befriend the other intern working right next to her, and Lisa (Celeste Sully) is willing to be more than a helpful colleague to Sarah.

Meanwhile, Sarah has been searching for any suitable residence for her, and then there comes an unexpected chance. On one day, she encounters an apartment building which happens to have a currently vacant apartment, and she decides to look around that vacant spot just in case. At first, it looks like many other people have already been interested in the apartment, but she decides to try anyway even though her pet cat will not be allowed into the apartment, and, what do you know, she gets a call from the manager guy of the building, who gladly notifies her that she is chosen as the new resident of the apartment.

Shortly after moving into her new place along with her pet cat hidden in a cage, Sarah gets to know her new neighbors, who happen to be about to hold an evening barbecue party on that day. Mainly through Brian (Giles Matthey), a nice lad living at the apartment not so far from Sarah’s, she is formally introduced to several other neighbors besides the manager and his quirky wife, and she quickly befriends Miss Stanhope (Susan Davis), a fragile but spirited old lady who was once a pretty B-movie actress long time ago.

So far, everything looks fine to Sarah on the surface, but the movie slowly dials up the level of anxiety behind the screen. While there is something odd about the bland cheerfulness of her new neighbors, there is also a creepy one-eyed dude who blatantly recommends Sarah a sort of self-help guidebook which clearly emphasizes on the importance of community as reflected by its very title, and Sarah becomes more nervous as she frequently hears strange sounds every night. It looks like the building simply needs to be repaired a bit, but she soon comes to have a frequent sleeping problem due to these strange nocturnal noises, and that makes her daily life a lot more disorganized than before.

Instead of dangling itself among several different possibilities, the movie promptly enters its middle act as quickly revealing to us what is really going on around Sarah. I do not dare to describe that in details for not spoiling your entertainment, but I guess I can tell you that our heroine’s situation suddenly becomes quite more desperate and isolated than before. No matter how much she tries, it seems she will inevitably succumb to the cruel demand forced upon her, and the villains of the story will surely not stop at nothing for achieving their common goal.

As intensely focusing on our heroine’s accumulating ordeal, the screenplay by director/writer/co-editor David Marmor gradually adds more mood and details to its preposterous but undeniably chilling premise, and it accordingly serves us a number of unnerving scenes while firmly sticking to our heroine’s increasingly isolated viewpoint. There is a gruesome moment of physical mutilation which will make you wince more than once, and then there comes a brief but disturbing moment which shows another darker side of the building, which turns out to be pretty much like your average maximum-security prison.

And we begin to wonder about our heroine’s mental status, which seems to be gradually bent and then broken down along her continuing ordeal. Around the last act, she fatefully finds herself on the opposite end of the process she has gone through, but we are not so sure about her mental status despite her completely compliant attitude, and Nicole Brydon Bloom is particularly good when her character must be very discreet in front of a certain figure whom she may care about more than she seems on the surface. In case of the other cast members in the film, Giles Matthey and Taylor Nichols are gently sinister as the main villains of the story, and Susan Davis, Alan Blumenfeld, and Celeste Sully are also effective in their small but crucial supporting roles.

In conclusion, “1BR” is a humble but skillful genre piece, and Marmor, who previously made several short films before making feature film debut here, did a commendable job of holding our attention through good mood and efficient storytelling. To be frank with you, as a guy who moved into a new apartment building a few months ago, I could not help but unnerved during my viewing, and now I wonder whether I really have to be a little more watchful of the neighbors around me.

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