Somewhere in 1BR, between the pointless torture porn and one-dimensional protagonist, is a smart commentary on the danger of cult mentality and how anyone can get wrapped up in something dangerous, only to realize it after it’s too late to escape. Despite a third act that delivers a much more clever conclusion than the film that precedes it ever hints at, whatever writer/director David Marmor is trying to say ultimately gets lost in a premise that’s so flawed it’s borderline offensive.
1BR centers on Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom), a recent transplant to Los Angeles who stumbles onto the perfect apartment in a seemingly idyllic courtyard building. The residents are welcoming and kind, from the elderly Edie (Susan Davis), once an Old Hollywood screen, to boy-next-door Brian (Giles Matthey) and building manager Jerry (Taylor Nichols). As Sarah tours the courtyard and community pool, Edie introduces herself and promptly has a bit of a fainting spell. Doing what any human with a modicum of consideration would do, Sarah stops to make sure she’s OK, catching Brian’s eye in the process. Soon, the apartment is hers, and she and her cat settle into their new home.
The trouble starts right away, as Sarah is awoken in the middle of the night by mysterious noises in the pipes; but every house has its creaks and oddities, so she’s troubled but writes it off. The horror begins when someone in the building discovers the cat Sarah brought with her to a building that explicitly doesn’t allow pets. Poor Giles meets a fiery end, and soon Sarah is being attacked by an intruder in her living room who overpowers her. She tries fighting back, but soon she’s knocked out only to wake up in her now-empty apartment with Brian and Jerry there to clue her into what’s going on. And what’s going on is not very pleasant at all.
Initially, the problem with 1BR is that it feels like something offensively misogynistic; Sarah is kidnapped, tortured and assaulted all against her will, as some sort of “initiation” into a society she never even knew existed let alone wanted to join, and somehow this is supposed to be entertainment. But what’s really the issue is that neither Bloom—in a performance that’s far too meek for the circumstances—nor the first half of the film’s script seem willing to truly commit to the horrors of the sort of forced indoctrination it aims to explore. There’s a half-hearted attempt at creating some sort of backstory for her—estranged from a father who cheated on her dying mother, a fledgling career as a costume designer—but it never really takes. So the character of Sarah ends up being more about what’s done to her rather than what she’s experiencing. Which, I guess if that’s your bag…
Things only get ickier through the film’s second act, but thankfully, Marmor finds his way to a satisfying conclusion that finally starts to make a bit of sense. Sarah gets smart enough to work the cult’s system from the inside, and though the film wasn’t able to raise the stakes at the outset, it certainly is willing to do so by the end. Die-hard horror fans may be able to overlook 1BR‘s egregious early shortcomings for the sake of the gruesome pay-off, but really, there are better, scarier films out there that get it right from the beginning.
The film is now streaming through Music Box Theatre’s Virtual Cinema; a portion of your rental goes to support the theater during its closure.
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