Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Marmor resists the temptation to over-explain, yet every time you think you see a way out, some new confounding factor will emerge." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Striking out on one's own for the first time is never easy. Always a bit of a daddy's girl, Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) really wants to prove that she can make it, but despite having found a job and taken care of all the practicalities, she's feeling vulnerable. Getting approved for an apartment in a friendly, community-focused neighbourhood could make all the difference. Although the noise from rumbling, screeching pipes at night threatens to drive her to distraction, and although she's not supposed to have a her cat there, she loves the atmosphere, and the cute guy along the terrace is a nice plus. Until the day somebody slips an angry note underneath her door and she gets her first hint of the other side of it.

A neatly designed little thriller which draws on a long history of American paranoia, 1BR is the sort of film that it's difficult to say much about without giving away secrets you'll enjoy discovering for yourself. It's an impressively confident first feature from writer/director David Marmor and although it engages in some playful teasing in places, it also delivers real chills. Though it has been categorised in some places as horror, that's not really accurate. Marmor understands that less is more and the scenes of torture he creates - not there for titillation but essential to the plot - depend for their impact more on the viewer's imagination than anything we see directly. The real horror is psychological, and not unique to any one genre.

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Why does Sarah get that apartment? Her neighbour tells her that he was impressed by the way she went to the aid of a confused elderly woman who is part of the community. She has a certain sweetness, a desire to be helpful, that we might consider the mark of a good citizen; it's the same quality abusers look for in their victims. In some aspects, the situation that Marmor presents us with is a familiar one, with characteristics often addressed in cinema before, but it's given a fresh edge by the way in which he draws parallels with the smaller scale ways in which people - especially young women - find themselves deliberately cut off from the world and told what's good for them all the time. The strictly gendered roles within the community create an additional layer of oppression, working together with Sarah's lack of physical confidence (despite the fact that, when she briefly has the opportunity to fight, she does everything right).

Bloom is very effective in the lead, presenting a combination of intelligence and insecurity that will give most viewers something to relate to, illustrating the way that individuals can become lost within a society yet doing so without losing the individual qualities that make us care about Sarah. The trap in which the young woman finds herself is more effective for its simplicity. Marmor resists the temptation to over-explain, yet every time you think you see a way out, some new confounding factor will emerge. Bloom shows us the psychological changes that follow from this, with the vice gripping ever more tightly as we wait to see if there will be a moment when she once again finds the will to fight - if there is enough of her left.

Attractively shot, the film uses small sets to build up claustrophobia but also makes the most of the California sunshine, never letting us forget what can happen in plain sight. There are plenty of easy targets for satire here but what gives the film power is that we'e never allowed to forget how easily this can happen for real.

Reviewed on: 24 Apr 2020
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Terror in an apartment complex.
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Director: David Marmor

Writer: David Marmor

Starring: Giles Matthey, Alan Blumenfeld, Taylor Nichols, Andrea Gabriel, Mark Krenik

Year: 2019

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: US

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