Anyone who’s lived in a place with a condo board or some other type of governing committee knows what a pain in the ass it can be, but David Marmor’s feature debut, 1BR, takes this to a whole new level of crazy. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but Marmor manages to deliver an entertaining albeit flawed little thriller.
Nicole Brydon Bloom stars as Sarah, a young woman escaping her stressful life at home in the hopes she’ll start anew in Los Angeles. She gets a crappy job at a temp agency but has a stroke of luck when she’s offered a spot at an affordable, luxury apartment complex. The people are friendly, and she quickly bonds with a guy who lives down the hall.
The only two apparent problems are that there’s a no-pet policy, so she has to sneak in her cat, and for some reason the pipes in her apartment make some awful sounds at night, preventing her from getting much sleep. But just as things are looking up for Sarah, an intruder in her new home sparks a series of events that drastically change her life forever.
Now, a film such as this relies heavily on the surprising turns that occur within the plot, but because perhaps the biggest hook of the film is also a bit of a plot spoiler and it happens within the first 20 minutes or so of the runtime. I’m going to avoid any specific story beats, but if you don’t want even the basic premise revealed, read the rest of this review only after watching.
As Sarah will soon discover, she’s been specifically chosen for this spot in the community based on her personality and the amount of help the other tenants have determined that she needs. See, this is more than a simple apartment complex, this is essentially a full-blown cult that’s looking to condition and groom perfect neighbors through a series of trials.
Much of the horror lies within the act of breaking Sarah down, chiselling her free will down to nothing in order to create what the community perceives to be a better person than she was before. There are spurts of violence throughout, and although this cult is not as twisted as you might think, they begin their initiation by using torture as their method of crushing their new tenants’ will, making them maliable and receptive to their, shall we say, “unique” way of thinking.
While Marmor seems to have a handle on the overall narrative, his tactfulness in handling his lead and just about every other character in the film is less assured. Dialogue is painfully cliched, perhaps most abundantly clear during a conversation between Sarah and her co-worker, Lisa (Celeste Sully), in which it becomes clear this is a male writer who hasn’t mastered the skill of writing conversations between women. Sully’s character is also woefully underwritten, relegated to the sassy-best-friend role, acting only as a catalyst for things later on in the film.
1BR is a great concept held back by the mishandling of its characters, but it still manages to deliver a worthwhile thriller that is both engrossing and, at times, unsettling.