It is the era of slow-burn horror. Filmmakers such as Ari Aster and Robert Eggers reign supreme with their brooding artistic styles. More and more horror fans are gravitating towards high-thinking stories, sacrificing a riveting pace in favor of quiet-creeping dread and meticulously-built tension. I find myself in somewhat of a grey area when it comes to these types of films. Part of me loves a good slow burn horror story—nothing beats a rewarding pay off, constructed on the foundation of good mood and atmosphere. But there’s another part of me that misses the schlocky, balls-to-the-wall mentality of a fast-paced thriller. 1BR, the latest horror feature from writer-director David Marmor, is a film that feels both inspired by the likes of Aster and Eggers, but with breakneck speed.
The film tells a familiar tale of a young woman named Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom), who is attempting to create a new life for herself in Los Angeles. She’s seemingly hoping to become a costume designer, much to her father’s disapproval, and as she makes her move to her new home she’s on the hunt for a welcoming place to live. The old saying goes “be careful what you wish for,” and this cautionary tale feels very much in line with the likes of Tales From the Crypt.
At first, Sarah’s new apartment feels like a dream-come-true. Her neighbors are outgoing and considerate, and the entire apartment complex feels like one big community. Group gatherings are a regular occurrence, and the complex is quick to welcome Sarah into the fold. Other than the strange and mysterious noises the plumbing makes at night (which is par for the course in Los Angeles), there appears to be not one downside to Sarah’s new living arrangement. As you may have guessed, things finally begin to take a sudden dark turn when Sarah receives a threatening note from an anonymous neighbor demanding that she get rid of her pet cat. When Sarah fails to comply, she awakens one night to the sound of her smoke detectors going off, and crispy surprise in her oven.
As Sarah begins to panic, she’s subdued by a member of the complex and awakens to find herself in an empty apartment unit. She’s told by the eerie property manager Jerry (Taylor Nichols) that she has unwittingly joined a Jonestown-esque cult community, which selects ideal candidates from the open apartment applicant pool. The cult holds Sarah against her will, and force her to abide by their tenets, put forth by an obscure book all the cult members own. Sarah must choose between accepting her new life in the “community,” or facing a torturous death.
As a piece of entertainment, the film is more than successful. Even though the hurried pacing sometimes challenges your suspension of disbelief, it was refreshing to watch a movie that kept my eyes glued to the screen throughout. At no point did I look at my phone, or check the time, I was too worried I’d miss something important. Even though I can respect the art of a slow burn horror story, there are times when I’m simply not in the mood for that kind of pacing and find it difficult to sit through. 1BR is a breath of fresh air in that regard and barrages its audience with a bevy of constant twists and turns. This stylistic choice is not without its flaws, however. As I just mentioned, the story does feel too rushed at times—not allowing the tension of a moment to reach its apex. I found myself wanting more build-up to some of the bigger reveals, but I was also happy to keep things moving.
The influence of The Invitation is especially obvious, even though 1BR doesn’t feel as neatly-executed as that film. In spite of these flaws, 1BR still manages to pack a significant punch and will have you on the edge of your seat in more than a couple of instances. Marmor’s direction is steady and confident, and he draws convincing performances out of the entire cast. As absurd as the story feels at times we’re reminded that cults are a very real thing, and the film never pushes itself too far outside the realm of possibility. For these reasons, 1BR is a fun thrill-ride of a movie. The more you’re willing to buy into its concept and characters, the more fun you’ll have, and I think it’s a better film for it. These times we live in are bleak, and while I can appreciate a high-minded artsy film as much as the next person, sometimes all we need is a simple good time. If that’s your cup of tea, gather your neighbors and go see 1BR.