Newly arrived in L.A. with dreams of becoming a costume designer, Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) is impressed with the community of the courtyard Asilo del Mar apartment complex, but her chances look slim given the turnout for its one vacancy. So she is thrilled to learn she is in, advised that her compassion for ‘wobbly’ senior resident Edie Stanhope (Susan Davis) during the open house sealed the deal. But even before her lie about having a pet comes back to haunt her, Sarah’s sleep is suffering from the strange disappearance of her Zoloft pills and the nightly clanging and burbling noises that reverberate around her new “1BR.”
Laura's Review: B+
The horror genre is the double-edged sword of the filmmaking industry. On the one hand, it seems to yield the greatest percentage of lousy movies, the genre allowing an inexpensive entry point. On the other, it is often the place to discover exciting new filmmakers like Robert Eggers and Ari Aster. While not quite in that rarified realm, writer/director David Marmor makes his feature debut with a rarity for the genre – a horror film that is genuinely horrifying.
A phone call with her father Gus (Alan Blumenfeld) tells us that Sarah’s dream (as yet unfulfilled, she having taken a temp job at a law firm) includes getting away from him, distraught over an affair he had as her mother lay dying. This is a bold move for a meek girl, one who seeks advice from office mate Lisa (Celeste Sully) on how to stand up to their bullying boss.
But she’s flustered whenever she runs into Brian (Giles Matthey) at her new home, the good looking guy always friendly and inviting, albeit not always at the right moment (like when she’s trying to smuggle her cat Giles into her apartment). Manager Jerry (Taylor Nichols, "Barcelona," "Metropolitan") and his wife Janice ('American Horror Story's' Naomi Grossman) usher her into a complex-wide barbecue, introducing her to residents, all of whom seem wonderful except for the man who approaches her himself, one lens of his glasses blacked out, looking like a demented Jean Luc Godard as he tries to press a book, ‘The Power of Community,’ on her (‘It changed my life.’). Later Sarah will feel terrible when she learns Lester (Clayton Hoff) recently lost his wife from Edie, the old Hollywood starlet also telling her she hears nothing at night.
Then one night a strange shadow flits across her room. She investigates, finding her front door ajar before the smell of smoke draws her to a horrific find in her kitchen. When she’s attacked from behind, she is wrong in her conclusion and, escaping to the courtyard, discovers just how wrong.
Marmor’s film not only goes to unexpected places, it does so by mixing such disparate elements as Scientology, Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Tenant,’ and the black site torture chambers of the Iraq War all set to 60’s pop like ‘Angel of the Morning.’ If torture porn is not your thing, beware that while it veers in that direction to squirm inducing degree a couple of times, Marmor has bigger ideas than gory exploitation on his mind. While he leaves his underlying theme under-developed, it is no stretch to find an under-lying message on the evils of fascism beneath the more obvious dangers of cults presented here. This movie's L. Ron Hubbard stand-in Charles D. Ellerby’s (Curtis Webster) four ‘foundations’ sound great – Selflessness, Openness, Acceptance and Security – until we see how they’ve been implemented. ‘Conditioning’ treatments are designed to wipe out such evils as drugs and rejection of family. (That latter one proves awfully ironic when Sarah’s dad shows up to save her in yet another dead-on representation of cult tactics.)
Production design is minimal, mostly taking place in one of L.A.’s cookie cutter apartment complexes, the Asilo del Mar initially looking lush and sunlit, gradually becoming spare and sterile. The ensemble cast are largely types cast more for looks than depth of character, but Davis is particularly memorable (her last scene is excruciating). With “1BR,” Marmor has created a distinct version of a living nightmare, one last revelation sending us out on a horror high.
Robin's Review: B
Fresh faced and eager, young Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) has moved to LA to start a new life. After landing a job, she turns her attention to getting an apartment and, miraculously, she finds the perfect place in a neighborly complex right away. Her neighbors are great and everyone is extra friendly to her, but that façade soon falls in “1BR.”
As Sarah settles in to her new digs – with her cat, even though that is against the strict rule of “no pets” – and life is going well for Sarah. Then she gets a threatening note about pet allergies addressed to “You Bitch!” Things start to go down hill for the young woman and, I feared, that the film was descending into “torture porn.” (Images of Eli Roth movies sprang to mind.)
Fortunately, first time feature filmmaker David Marmor writes and directs a psychological thriller that, yes, turned my stomach with its graphic violence and mind-altering torture used to make Sarah conform to her new environment. But this is a device of the story and not the reason for it. This makes me root for Sarah through her plight and against her cult-driven captors.
Marmor’s tale of a “conform and be rewarded, don’t and be punished” society is centered in the sinister apartment complex that seemed the idyllic place to live. Sarah, the wide-eyed innocent, is selected to be the next tenant for the coveted one bedroom apartment by complex manager, Jerry (Alan Blumenfeld). Newcomer Nicole Brydon Bloom delivers a convincing performance as the reticent, eager to please Sarah who turns out to be the perfect cult recruit – no close ties and new in town. As her ordeal ramps up, my empathy for her does, too, as I put myself in her shoes...
The denizens of the complex, ruled by their long dead cult leader, offer a comforting front as they run an “open house” to search for a new, willing or not, cult member. Once the cheerful façade drops, the seemingly nice folk turn sinister and they are scary. This increases my feeling of empathy for Sarah.
The violence and torture that Sarah must endure are mostly committed off-screen, using sounds, like a hammer driving a nail, to make the tension, while not graphic, palpable. This makes “1BR” a cut above the usual horror flick. I give it a B.