Review by Craig Draheim
Writer/Director: David Marmor
Starring: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Giles Matthey, Taylor Nichols
There’s the Los Angeles I know! 1BR plays off interesting philosophies that I’ve been thinking about for some time, and this review is allowing me a unique opportunity, even if obliquely, to have a larger discussion that has piqued my interest. Thanks to the success of films like The Farewell, which clearly lays out differences between eastern and western philosophies, showing how the west values individualism, while the east is more likely to demonstrate how one best contributes to society. In the wake of a global pandemic and witnessing how many western nations and its citizens reacted, it had many of us having to make the choice between our own needs and what is best for masses. This movie does not really explore this question, actually it veers on the side of western individualism while treating the other as cult-like, but it allowed me to show where my head has been lately and for that I’m grateful. The story follows a green Los Angeles transplant, Sarah, as she is searching for her first apartment to start a new life and claim her independence. She comes across the perfect apartment complex, affordable, safe, overly friendly, and community based. However, Sarah soon finds herself terrorized because with all rental agreements there is a catch. To obtain the perfect community, you must shed your individualism for the betterment of society. Don’t worry, this realization happens within the first act of the film, leaving us primarily with the focus being on the brainwashing of Sarah and her acceptance of community-over-individuality, so anything I’m saying aren’t really spoilers. I must begin with that movie is technically strong, and I found myself engaged throughout. While the twists and turns don’t come out of the blue, like the “creepy character” is actually her true ally, as well as some other clichés that are used for constructing the narrative, its strength is in Marmor’s vision, making any of the trivial issues fade while he materializes a captivating story. The biggest flaw lies with the character’s arc (hero’s journey or however else you wish to say it). The journey as we are made to believe should go like this: A woman who has been controlled or coddled throughout her whole life finally claims her independence. As the mantra in the movie goes, “it’s my own fucking life.”
However, when we meet Sarah, she is already in the process of claiming her independence, getting out from under the control of her father, and taking over her own “fucking life.” So, the hero’s journey we are given instead goes: A woman claims independence, is brainwashed into shedding her individuality for the betterment of the community and claims her independence again. While this version is still accomplishable, it doesn’t really impact us or allow us to empathize with Sarah’s struggles and growth as effectively as it could. We are also left with these elements like her “controlling” father is willing to listen to what she has to say and is trying his best to make amends for his past infidelity. While elements like this may seem insignificant, they diminish the power that 1BR is attempting to obtain.
This type of criticism is a matter linked back to conception and the writing stage, as everything else from the directing to the acting to the technical aspects are great accomplishments. Yet with stories like these that are more character-study oriented than spectacle-driven you really need both the acting and the script to be flawless, as that’s where our focus will lie since there isn’t the spectacle or effects to divert our attention. Don’t get me wrong, I will watch this again and may even buy it because there is something in it that’s intriguing to me and deserves more attention. I would love to see what Marmor could do with another person’s script, because I think he would blow us away. Ultimately for me,1BR is one of those that doesn’t necessarily check any boxes to standout as an outright great horror/thriller film. It’s not really scary, disturbing, or suspenseful, its theme is underutilized, and the character’s journey isn’t fully realized. Although it is well done, I felt it is a tarnished gem that just needed a little more polishing. 4 out of 5