‘1BR’: Film Review | Fantasia 2019

1BR-Publicity Still-H 2019
Courtesy of Fantasia
A solid woman-in-peril thriller well suited to contemporary paranoiacs.

A woman's first Los Angeles apartment has a surprisingly binding lease in David Marmor's debut.

If horror stories tend to embody the anxieties of our times in ways their authors may not endorse, much less intend, then David Marmor's 1BR is a scare for the Alex Jones nation — an allegory for the creeping threat of the nanny state in which every individual must submit without question to another's ideal of the greater good. It matters little that the socialists here follow a single man instead of a squad of young, idealistic women: Viewers who panic at any whiff of socialism will find their decade-old fears confirmed when, mid-film, Obamacare's nonexistent death panels are embodied in all their Grandma-killing cruelty. Marmor's feature debut, which takes a new arrival to Hollywood and puts her in an apartment complex whose residents have scary plans for her, is a cousin of Rosemary's Baby in which the occult is replaced by mere brainwashing and the eerie glamour of Central Park luxury decomposes into the generic architecture of a Los Angeles starter apartment. Taken on its own terms, it's a solid if hardly revolutionary thriller that bodes well for the filmmaker's future in genre films.

Newcomer Nicole Brydon Bloom plays Sarah, who has just left home against her father's wishes to pursue a career in costume design. She lands a temp office job quickly, befriending take-no-guff coworker Lisa (Celeste Sully), and visits an open house at an apartment complex whose residents are surprisingly welcoming. She gets the apartment, but only after telling a fateful lie about not having a pet.

It doesn't strike Sarah as strange when the new neighbors she meets include a married couple whose high-powered lawyer and prominent doctor should probably have outgrown a courtyard complex like this decades ago. But maybe she's too smitten by the handsome boy-next-door Brian (Giles Matthey) or fond of the doddering old actress Edie (Susan Davis) to notice. The complex's manager, Jerry (Taylor Nichols), certainly wants her to feel right at home. But loud, unexplained noises wreck her sleep from the first night, and as the weary days pile up, she suspects the creepy Lester (Clayton Hoff) may have a vendetta against the cat she's trying to hide.

If only it were that simple. The entire complex is actually a communal cult led by Jerry, and Sarah has been chosen to join involuntarily. Her apartment is stripped bare, turned into a black site for tortures designed to "fix bad conditioning" and make her receptive to the cause. When the choice is embrace or die, you'd probably give in as quickly as Sarah does.

The film's implementation of its premise is no more twisty than that. Though obstacles remain before her captors decide Sarah's truly converted, it's mostly a matter of watching Nichols, Matthey and others dole out the tough love of true believers, convinced their victim will thank them when it's over, and seeing Bloom imagine her character's stages of grief as she processes the inevitable. A couple of gory moments notwithstanding, this isn't captivity porn, but the film also doesn't dive too deep into anyone's psychological state. Like the cookie-cutter dwellings that inspire it, there are precious few bits of flair — trendily ironic soft-rock music here; a nice lift from John Wick at the end — to set it apart from other films serving the same purpose.

Venue: Fantasia Film Festival
Production company: Malevolent Films
Cast: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Alan Blumenfeld, Susan Davis, Naomi Grossman, Clayton Hoff, Giles Matthey, Taylor Nichols, Earnestine Phillips, Celeste Sully
Director-screenwriter: David Marmor
Producers: Alok Mishra, Sam Sandweiss, Shane Vorster, Allard Cantor, Jarrod Murray, Nic Izzi, Peter Phok
Director of photography: David Bolen
Production designer: Ricardo Jattan
Costume designer: Laura L. Brody
Composer: Ronen Landa
Casting director: Cristina Benavente

90 minutes