1BR starts off like a Lifetime movie made by a Mulholland Drive fan, and while it eventually goes off in other directions, it keeps up that kind of simultaneous commitment to genre conventions on the one hand and an appreciation for strangeness on the other. Strictly speaking, it probably never rises above “fine,” but my enjoyment of it outstrips my critical judgment … which is actually thematically appropriate in this case.
Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) is new to Los Angeles, and she’s looking for a real sense of home. She resents her father’s adultery (with her mother’s nurse, while her mother was slowly dying) enough that she’s tried to put distance between them, but he’s still a suffocating presence in her life, calling with questions that subtly nibble away at her self-confidence and suggest she can’t survive on her own. Finding the perfect apartment feels like the first crucial step in establishing successful independence. And the complex she’s looking at–a multi-story building wrapped around a central courtyard–hums with life. It looks like a slow-motion ad for detergent or Tupperware, with neighbors having idyllic cookouts and helping each other hang sheets out to dry. Everyone says hi to everyone else. The vacant apartment attracts dozens of potential applicants, but Sarah gets picked because the apartment manager (Taylor Nichols of Whit Stillman’s stable) likes how she rushed to assist Edie, the aging former actress who feels like the building’s unofficial mascot. See, she already fits in. She even has a cute neighbor, Brian, who is eager to help her out at every possible opportunity.
It doesn’t take long for the cracks to start to show. Sarah has secretly smuggled in her pet cat against the rules of the lease, and an angry note about it–SOME PEOPLE ARE ALLERGIC, YOU SELFISH BITCH–gets stuck under her door. The building’s pipes groan so loudly at night that she can barely get any sleep, but no one else acknowledges this. One of the complex’s residents, a jittery and off-kilter man named Lester, unnerves her with his staring and his attempt to shove a book into her hands: “It changed my life.” Of course, Brian is still there, good-looking and friendly and immediately invested in Sarah in a way that screams THIS IS A TRAP.
Then Sarah wakes up to find her cat roasted in her own oven, and you check the run-time and see that there’s still a lot of movie that needs to follow and presumably somehow top “oven cat.”
A figure emerges from the shadows and dead-cat-related smoke, and Sarah begs Lester to stop–only to find out, to her surprise but not ours, that it’s Brian, coolly effective in zip-tying her to her chair. He’s annoyed when she manages to break it almost escape: “Fucking IKEA.”
We see Brian coming, and we may even see other reveals coming, but 1BR sells them via little details (both human and chilling) and a reasonably convincing level of psychological realism. It sells its extremes well. Nicole Brydon Bloom’s work as Sarah does a lot for that: she successfully conveys Sarah as a shy, doe-eyed young woman who freezes up in conflict and as someone discovering how much she can survive and as someone broken and as someone who at last may manage to discover how to really use her resilience and burgeoning sense of independence. It would be easy for that development to whip by too quickly, but here it actually feels earned.
Various story beats here are rigorously predictable, and two of the film’s best moments feel like too-direct parallels to another, better movie; that’s never the kind of comparison you want to invite. But during its long middle stretch, where it’s heavily involved in the peculiar worldbuilding of its claustrophobic setting, the film is very successful on its own terms, executing its horror tropes with a kind of fascinated unease.
1BR is streaming on Netflix.